The Challenge of Late Adopters

source: Wired Magazine

An article in the June 2010 Wired Magazine makes some good points on the challenge posed by the late-adopter. In the search for new markets and new consumers, the late-adopter market is a seductive one. Imagine a large cross section of society that refuses to buy the latest device or change to the newest technology. From the point of view of the marketer this demographic represents a massive challenge to growth. Yet the decision to leapfrog isn’t something that can be forecast and projected. It’s affected by lifestyle, by broken devices that can’t be fixed and by external forces like Santa Claus showing up with your first iPod (you’re welcome Dad.)

However I think there is one consistent element in the buyer’s decision of when to leapfrog, usability.

I think it’s fair to say that the more complex a technology is to use, the slower the adoption rate is for it. For example, as computers became less and less complex through the 90s, the adoption rate became exponential in the consumer market. Yet I was in a taxi recently with a cabbie who had just gotten the latest Android phone because his wife suggested it. He was baffled by it. Couldn’t figure out how to do the things that his old phone did and didn’t know why he would want “apps”. In this case, the usability of the device didn’t facilitate the leapfrog for the late adopter.

In contrast, Apple’s products (and advertising) center around usability. Devices that just do what you want them too. It makes for a powerful message. Harmon Kardon is another example of product and marketing that is centered around usability (only the buttons you need) and not overwhelming the consumer. It may sound like a lowest-common-denominator method of development but both of these examples are of products that still provide advanced features to the “super user” while simplifying the interface for the late-adopter.

What we, as innovators, should keep in mind is that this isn’t just about devices, usability affects the adoption of any new technology. Because as users we have to be able to figure out a service, product, or offer before we can want it. We have to know, or imaging we can know, where we’ll land when we make that leap.

You can read the article here.

(This is from a post I wrote on the Wolff Olins blog)