After a couple IBM laptops, I bought a Sony Vaio to take with me on a two month job in London. I still use it -- and despite the fact that I've probably written close to a million words on it (a quarter of the keys are now missing their letters) it has worked like a champ. A good choice.
Adding it all up, I figured I've batted about .375. If this were baseball, that'd be more than enough to get me into the Hall of Fame. But, rather, this is my money, not to mention my productivity, and in that light I've been a near-failure. And this is what I do for a living.
Part of this, I'm convinced, is just pure over thinking. I know the companies, I know the people, I know who ought to succeed -- or at least who is taking the most interesting risks. But those are exactly the wrong criteria when making a purchase. Instead, you should make either the safe choice of going with the industry leader, or hitch your wagon to the rising star/industry genius and not give a damn if you detest that company or individual.
But there is another factor at work here: timing. By this I mean where you sit on the continuum between early adopter and truculent troglodyte. Gordon Moore -- yeah, that Moore -- once made the case that, contrary to myth, it is better to not be the first company into a new market. When it comes to the technology party, sometimes it's best to be fashionably late. The reason is that there are so many unknown risks and unforeseen obstacles to market pioneers that they almost always end up falling on their faces and quickly being outpaced by trailing firms that learn from their bad example.
I think that's true for consumers as well. We all know gearheads, classic early adopters of any new tech gadget …who forever make the wrong choice. They study the reviews on CNet or G4 television, read the coverage in the trade media, talk authoritatively about the superiority of a particular product -- and six months after they've bought the item, they quietly get rid of it and never mention it again (or deny they ever owned it). Meanwhile, their non-techie friends, the ones who only buy stuff because "everybody is getting one," inevitably, end up happy with classic, enduring products.
So, should you never be an early adopter? Ah, well, it's not that simple. You see, every once in awhile, the first company into a new market manages to hold on and reap billions: Think Intel with microprocessors. And by the same token, with consumers you can never discount the coolness factor. Those folks who camped out overnight and bought the first iPhone enjoyed, for a few days at least, a glowing cultural penumbra that they probably never experienced before or since.
Or think of those college kids who were the first on Facebook or Twitter. Like it or not, cool has value -- and if that value is high to you, then the risk (and the expense) of embracing numerous losers to find one winner may be worth it. For the rest of us, though, it is probably too costly.