Many Mac fans are what marketing people call 'early adopters'. I'm one. I install anything Apple tells me I should. I also install beta code willy nilly, and even had a copy of the OS X public beta running for a while (until I needed to print). Even now I often end up the unwitting beta tester when I thought I was reviewing a finished product.
I thought everybody was like this until I worked in publishing - production people recoil, Gollum-like, from anything that might screw-up their system. But what if everyone was like that? New products need people who are willing to risk sanity trying untested applications and hardware. I wonder if Henry Ford had problems getting people to buy his cars because “horses work just fine”?
While it isn't like being a Chuck Yeager-style test pilot, trying new things can be exciting. There's nothing like the thrill of being first with The Next Big Thing. But of course you end up being first with things that never get to be Big Things at all. Take my Newton, for example… or my Rabbit phone… or the Web site that I haven't updated since 1995.
Apple is an early adopter; it takes untested technologies and incorporates them into its hardware way before the rest of the PC crowd catch up. The company popularized USB when PC manufacturers hadn't really got their heads around it. The PC manufacturers were reluctant to include USB on their computers because there were few USB peripherals available at the time. Stingy PC buyers didn't want to pay extra for something they couldn't use. Apple CEO Steve Jobs, on the other hand, decided to add it when the original iMac came out. Before you knew it, the market was flooded with USB devices. That's why so many of the early USB products came in Bondi Blue.
Another Apple coup was AirPort. Wireless networking was already working, and the 802.11b standard was all set out when the AirPort launched. But it was Steve and the gang that made it affordable to the masses. That was almost four years ago - PC laptops are just beginning to advertise the fact that they are WiFi-ready.
Add to the list of Apple early adoption the mouse, the 1.4MB floppy drive, the CD-ROM, Gigabit Ethernet, colour screens, LCD screens and the iPod. Apple is king of the early adopters, and we reap the benefits.
The term 'early adopter' comes from Diffusion of Innovations by Everett M Rogers. There are five categories of adopters: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and the laggards. Innovators are at the real cutting-edge. They will buy DVD players before DVDs are available to play on them. They're nuts. The early adopters are the well-informed 13.5 per cent who are among the first to try out new stuff. Once the early majority sees what cool stuff we have, they follow suit. Then the late majority notices that half the world has moved to the cool new thing, so they take it up too. Finally, the laggards move to the cool new stuff long after it stopped being cool or new.
One reason to be an early adopter is because if you're the first to a new technology, it may give you an advantage. Take desktop publishing: when the Mac was first plugged into a PostScript laser printer it put older typesetting systems in jeopardy - anybody could compete with companies that had invested thousands in typesetting systems. A similar thing is now happening with video.
The trick is to know which technology will give you a competitive edge, or at least make you look cool. The only way to know that is to take a risk and be an early adopter. Remember, innovators take the insane risk of buying unfinished products that work only with products that haven't yet been invented - so you've a safety net.
Looking around, there are a few technologies that demonstrate what I mean. The 3G phone market is still early in its development. Of course, you know there were those that had to have one as soon as came out. This is despite the devices costing the earth, looking like sandwich toasters, having limited coverage and having no users. The 3G phone market is still growing as the early adopters have taken over form the innovators. If 3G phones are going to be a success, which is by no means certain yet, the early majority should jump on the bandwagon soon.
I know some people will still be sitting back thinking I'm a loon for wanting to take risks with my technology purchasing. You may be safe in the knowledge that I'll find the bugs, the shortcomings and the high prices, while you wait for it all to be fixed and drop in price. But waiting too long can be just as risky, and if your business depends on technology it can be downright dangerous.
Anybody who watched the Mac industry take over the pre-press and printing industry will tell you that there were plenty of hold outs - people who had spent thousands on typesetters one year, and refused to spend a little more on Macs the next year. The people that weren't in the first wave of innovation weren't around to figure out what they missed - they either updated or disappeared.
So even if your tendencies are to hold back and wait for things to be thoroughly tested, at least have an early adopter around to let you know what's new. I'll do what I can when it comes to Mac things - and give you the heads-up. But if a new razor blade, form of transport, or way of tying your shoes suddenly puts you out of business, don't blame me.