Friend or Foe of Tech: The Psychology of the “Early Adopter”

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When it comes to approaching new technology, several different psychological responses have been noted. For some people, a cautious wait-and-see approach is the norm, where initial glitches can be ironed out before they take the plunge, while others seem to instinctively feel wary of any improvements in technology, believing them not to be pertinent to their own lives.

Though many are cautious, the more interesting group of individuals to take notice of are those termed the early adopters. These people are prepared, for various reasons and motivations, to get in at the first opportunity to embrace advances in technology. 

Despite the fact that there are numerous risks involved in being an early adopter, those who do risk this approach, especially companies and brands, often find themselves gaining an early competitive advantage over their rivals.

In the case of individuals, it can give them new skills others don’t already have and/or even improve their lives on a deeper level. We’ve seen this pay out with those who embraced HTML5 early, but it’s not always the case. Some technology, like 3D tech, hasn’t moved at the pace expected, leaving some early adopters out of pocket and red-faced. Let’s take a look at the psychology of an early adopter.

What Motivates an Early Adopter?

While some might assume that early adopters are all going to be firmly in favor and enthusiastic participants of any new technology, this isn’t always the case. A rather humorous article on Medium suggests that there are five different types of early adopter, with some even keen to place themselves in this camp in order to get an early chance to attack a new technology and damn it before it has a chance to hit the mainstream.

Early adopters can be perceived as psychologically predisposed risk takers, but the possibility of early adopters adamant on attacking new ideas proves that this group cannot just be pigeonholed into one personality type. 

One factor that also has to be strongly considered in the world of early adoption is not just the fact that some welcome new tech due to being risk takers or because they want to demonize new advances, but that some people have a vested interest in developing a given tech from early on.

For instance, pushing a new product or service as part of a wider technological development can allow it an extended beta testing time, helping to refine it to increase its chances of success in a wider context once it hits the mainstream market.

It should also be noted that this isn’t always a good thing; while technology can get the hardcore early adopters’ approval, this approval can end up having no bearing on mainstream reception.

In fact, the psychology of early adopters can also lead to the death of a product – indeed, an article on Entrepreneur asserts that early adopters can, contrary to expectations, actually turn out to be detrimental to new technology.

Where it Works and Where It Doesn’t

Predicting what impact early adopters will have and what they can help to achieve (or not) is a tough area to examine. However, it is clear that in the examples of the Fitbit (where customer feedback helped with syncing problems and GPS tracking issues), contactless payments (where early usage drove subsequent improvements in security of transactions), and smart TVs, that early adopters of the technology in question helped the companies to generate the success they enjoyed.

Fitness, finance, and entertainment aside, we’ve also seen similar trends in other niches, including video games.

Gaming brands and platforms tend to be early adopters of advances in technology, perhaps as a result of how entrenched their offerings are in emerging technologies and how ruthlessly intense competition within that industry can be. Clearly, brands know the games being offered have to be easy to play and quick to load on a range of devices, with even huge companies like Facebook aware that games like Farmville need to be easy to play and load, or else risk losing their audience.

One of the ways that early adoption helped to negate this problem was through the adoption of HTML5 technology (now prioritized over Flash), which enables the quick loading of games. While early adoption may be the name of the game, even retro sites like Play Retro Games, where you can play older titles from the world of Game Boy or the NES started to adopt the use of HTML5 technology over Flash.

Indeed, while sites can still use Flash to run games for now, the fact that you no longer have to download plug-ins or even the games themselves when using sites like Kongregate and Newgrounds before playing has enabled the industry to offer an instant-play product – whether that takes the form of a casino product, a social gaming product, or a retro game product.

Online casinos, specifically, focus on employing new technology early in a bid to gain an advantage over their competitors, in this case by adopting HTML5 browsing early on. This way, they make the experience simpler for users, as players don’t have to download anything in order to sample the games on offer, and user experience is identical no matter if a smartphone, tablet or web browser on a desktop PC is used. 

Despite this, as we mentioned earlier, it isn’t all successful when it comes to early adopters. Perhaps the most recent failure of early adoption is the world of 3D home TV technology. While early adopters seemed to love the product, it proved to be a perfect example of how being an early adopter of technology can be a bad move. 

Working Out How Much to Trust Early Adopters

This example of failing technology that passed the early adopter test shows that these individuals don’t always share the same psychology and the same likes and dislikes as the wider market, which is normally where ongoing success is made. Moreover, we can talk about these brands being early adopters of emerging tech themselves, which doesn’t always turn out to be a good move – as with the case of 3D home television.

With this in mind, individuals and businesses wanting to promote new technology and ensure it is a success will need to be aware that they need to aim beyond just the group of early adopters, no matter their motivation. 

By doing so, they can slightly negate the issue that a portion of this group of vocal early adopters are out to snuff out the technology before it hits the wider market. 

Ultimately, early adopters as a group shouldn’t be the only factor taken into consideration to guarantee the success of a product, despite the fact that they are clearly a vital group to keep an eye on.

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