We live in a world where we have to create neologisms such as “choice fatigue” and “pre-purchase anxiety” to pathologize the realities customers face on a daily basis. A lot of this has to do with the impressive scale at which technology has just changed from sunrise to sunrise, from smartphones to 3DTV, to self-driving vehicles and beyond.
Despite being designed to make our lives easier, the evolution of consumer technology has reached a point in which it’s become disorienting. There are so many things to consider, especially when the technology is fresh. Perhaps it is time we looked at what we should be thinking about before jumping in to purchase new things with our dollars, yen, euros, or whatever currency we use to get ourselves coffee to fuel the day.
1: New Things Are Destined to Fail, No Matter the Hype
Gamers will remember the tragedy that was the Sega Dreamcast, a video game console that sported a clunky but highly-functional controller with a status screen. It was discontinued in 2001 because of disappointing sales figures. For those of you who were born somewhere after the point we stopped writing on stone tablets, you can take the more recent example of Google Glass, a pair of glasses that would end up letting you browse the Web, record stuff, and experience augmented reality like never before. It had a lot going for it, including the backing of a multi-billion-dollar enterprise and a very promising amount of interest from all the right tech gurus. It never caught on, although it still holds a little glimmer of promise since Google filed a new application with the Federal Communications Commission regarding a new version of their product in 2015.
What I’m trying to say here is that very few things last forever. Whatever technology you acquire today may be obsolete anywhere from a day to a few years after you buy it. Since it isn’t mature, you have no way to determine its sustainability. The reason why more people buy smartphones than these niche gadgets (among them perhaps the next game-changer) is that smartphones have proven themselves over time to be reliable.
2: Being an Early Adopter Often Means Expecting the Unexpected Bug
Once again, I bring up gamers because they are veterans to this particular thing. A new video game comes out and on its release date is full of bugs! This is mostly because the developers didn’t test every functionality of the game on every possible system scenario and now have to fix those bugs with the help of customer input. These first customers actually spent their money to test a product that is not completely refined.
All of these things are equally true about the gadget market. A very famous example of this is the Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s release when many of the units began catching fire and exploding. Beyond that we know of the incident back in 2008 when an update to the Xbox 360 rendered an enormous amount of console units inoperable. The fact that a technology is brand new should set off the assumption that something may go wrong at some point, even though this happens more rarely with more experienced manufacturers that can apply the lessons they learned from the past.
3: The Success of a Technology Is Caused by One Specific Thing
When most people go gadget-shopping for something new and “out there,” their first instinct is to check reviews, news cycles surrounding the gadget, its specifications, and other things related to the device itself. This is to first gauge its (perceived) popularity and then to determine whether it is worth the purchase. It might come as a shock to some, but this does absolutely nothing to tell you how popular your gadget will be or whether it can gain mainstream acceptance.
If you want to know whether a technology will evolve within a little niche, then simply look at the enthusiasm of the people within that niche – but most gadget manufacturers and software developers want to cast a wide net and reach mainstream popularity, and the only way they can do this is by appealing to the vast majority of people. Ask yourself: Does the product sitting in front of me really look like something the average Joe or Lindy who works a 9-5 shift at Costco would buy? If they can potentially feel the need to purchase something like what you’re currently looking at, then that is a better measure of the product’s potential for mainstream popularity.
Have any other stories about technologies that could have been but weren’t meant to be? Tell us about the best flops you know in a comment!