Early adopters still have a place

Ericsson mp3 player

Early this morning after Silicon Drinkabout Manchester, two friends had a long argument about the need/lesser need for early adopters in developing new products.

I won’t go into details but I’m certainly side on the side of the need for early adopters.
During the argument, Apple, ipod and the iphone came up (interestingly the iMac never comes up anymore). I made the point that Apple generally copy things and improve on them. This reminded me of my first proper owned and bought mpeg3 player. I bought a Samsung Yepp32 from my friend, but about the same time I saw the Ericsson HPM-10  and a few months later I bought one on Tottenham court road.

Ericsson T28 and HPM-10

For me it made perfect sense, why have a separate device when my phone has most of the capability? I swore by the Ericsson HPM-10 and ended up buying only ericsson phones, so I could keep using it. I remember squeezing 2 whole cds of music on to the 32meg MMC card for my ride down to Bristol from London on the scooter. I must have encoded it at 16kps!My friends didn’t get it, why a music player on the phone? It took about 5-6years before the idea of using the mobile for music playback really started to happen.

Without early adopters, I feel the almost relentless push forward into the currently unacceptable and questionable unknown. Just wouldn’t happen.

To be clear I’m not saying early adopters are the reason for why a product or service crosses into the mainstream. But I am saying they/we have an effect which can be quantified and should not be written off.

One of the reasons why I always wanted to go to Tokyo is to explore the vast electronic markets of failed products. Everything from robot dogs to things which never made it out of Japan. I would contest that kickstarter is the new electronic market now? There will be popular products like the pebble smartwatch but theres products only early adopters would consider. Once considered and used, they share.

That sharing is where the norm starts to shift.

Remember having a discussion with a colleague at my then work place, the Odeon Leicester square about what is mpeg3 and what was that funny thing sticking out my Ericsson t28 phone? She had just bought a Sony minidisc and I was explaining why mpeg3 was the future? Years later at a reunion she remained me as she bought a 1st generation iPod a few years later based slightly on that afternoon sitting in the box office listening to badly encoded music.

Her perception of music had been shifted enough to early adopt the iPod before it really hit the mainstream.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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