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It’s Shiny! It’s New! I’ll wait.

September 7, 2010

Apple is the King of the castle when it comes to product hype. Everyone knows that when Apple stages an event, they’re going to be showing off a new new thing. They have created a legion of “fanboys” (no offense meant to the “fangirls”) – what Geoffrey Moore would call “early adopters” (admit it, “fanboys” sounds better), and I will argue (successfully, I may add) that they are not “Innovators” – who are Apple’s best product evangelists out there (sorry, Guy Kawasaki).

I am not one of them. Nothing to do with Apple, or any other company, you see, it’s just that I’m not about to jump into the waters unless others have done it before me. Typically version 1 of anything has just enough features to get it into the market, or for it to be viable in the market, with a few rough edges here and there. The Minimally Viable Product is not the goal, but more of a step on the marketing path to get product out to customers in a way that (often) makes it more affordable for them and to create some sort of market awareness.

Case in point – a few months ago I switched to a different cellular carrier, one of the reasons being that I was finally ready to get an iPhone. With versions 1-3G I felt that the product wasn’t mature enough (a phone should, y’know, work as a phone), have enough toys, or enough processing power. With the 3GS I felt that the product was finally ready for me to plunk down my cash and buy it – in other words, my personal Minimum Viable Product.

But wait – did I make a mistake? Because shortly thereafter Apple announced the iPhone 4. My new toy was rendered obsolete by rounding up to the nearest integer. Apple has done it once again with the introduction of the next generation iPod Touch. It’s thinner, faster, has a better screen, and more memory. And it costs the same. (Actually it costs less due to the depreciation of currency over time, but I digress.) But I can’t buy it – yet. Whereas I may have wanted to go out and get the then-current one last week, I will now wait until the new batch comes out. In fact, I’ll probably even wait longer than that so that the kinks inherent in early production models can be worked out. For proof: I waited until iOS v. 4.0.2 came out before I upgraded my iPhone. Far be it from to take the glory away from others in finding device-crashing bugs…

Another example – I bought some development software. Three days later the company announced a new version for the same price. So here I was holding version 3, when the lovely new version 4 was available for the same price. Had I only waited the three days – and I couldn’t have known this, since the company did not pre-announce a release date – I could have had the new version (notwithstanding my generous nature re: bug catchers, see above). In the end, after quite a few frustrating phone calls and e-mails, I convinced them to upgrade me for free to the new version.

Because products do not tend to disrupt themselves (although Cannibalization is a legitimate, if not risky, market strategy), quick product iterations prompt a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude, something that I’m going to call “purchase latency”. This affects purchasing decisions across almost every large market segment I can think of: electronics (maybe the new printer in the series will be faster? cheaper?), automotive (brand new model? let’s see if the brakes are better on this model first), houseware (I’ll wait for the super-green frying pans to come out), appliances (new features! Unless the fridge dies…), computers (more memory, better screen, faster processor for the same money), and so on.

Even being “Greener” has an effect, I still have to throw away my old fridge in order to get the one that is more energy efficient – but what is the cost to the environment in disposing of a perfectly good, if old, fridge?

We shouldn’t think that the Web is immune from this. While you may not have to physically upgrade your software, changes will affect you. Google Buzz is a wonderful example: even a small change to privacy settings may have unintended consequences for millions of people. Are you ready to commit your data until a service hits critical mass?

Think about it. Until then, think twice about buying.

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