- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2008

Do you pride yourself on being an early adopter of new technology? Perhaps you were envied as the first on your block to have the stylish Apple iPhone last year - only to find that those who waited a mere two months got theirs for $200 less.

Maybe you bought an HD DVD player last year, wanting to show off the high-definition picture and sound - only to find that the format war that looked to have no end in sight was soon decided in favor of Blu-ray Disc.

Or are you an early-but-not-too-early adopter?

You might have waited a few months to get that lower-priced iPhone - only to discover just this month that a new iPhone will be released in July that costs another $200 less and has important new features, including a global-positioning system and access to the faster 3G data network.

You might have thought you were smart by waiting for the high-def DVD format war to end before purchasing a Blu-ray player - but you’ll see new players hitting the market this summer with new interactive BD Live technology that your player doesn’t support.

Early adopters have always paid a premium for being the first to sample new technology, but that premium seems to be a lot higher these days.

“I think the new ‘norm’ for technology is change,” says Kit Eaton, a contributing editor of the gadget blog Gizmodo.com. “We’re used to technology advancing quickly, so we know that when we buy something, it’s not going to be the ‘cutting edge’ gadget it was when we bought it for very long.”

Are early adopters becoming wary adopters?

Even a tech expert like Mr. Eaton has been holding out. “Personally, I waited for the iPhone 3G to come out before thinking about buying one, and I know that before too long, one will likely come out with a bigger memory - but I’m OK with that, since I’ll get to use the device when I buy it.”

Chris Andrusiak is another consumer who is looking on the bright side. The 32-year-old sales representative was an early adopter of HD DVD, buying a player in August 2006, before stand-alone Blu-ray players were being sold. He doesn’t seem bitter about picking a loser - and buying 74 HD DVDs. “To be honest, I am still very pleased with my HD DVD player,” he says. “It’s a fantastic upscaler for standard DVDs, so it still gets lots of use here.”

He even still counts himself an early adopter. “I enjoy having the latest gadgets and being the first person I know to have them,” he says. “I suppose it’s a hobby or personality defect of sorts.”

That’s exactly the attitude technology companies want to see. “You got what you paid for,” says Peter M. Fannon, Panasonic’s vice president for technology policy, government and regulation.

He points out that Blu-ray technology is a big advance over standard DVD technology - so consumers enjoying that great picture and sound shouldn’t feel too bad that Blu-ray technology itself has advanced.

Technology always moves forward. Soon, he notes, you’ll even see Blu-ray recorders at the consumer level. Panasonic’s BD Live player, the BD50, will be in stores soon with a retail price of about $700.

Mr. Fannon was at a presentation in the District this week sponsored by Disney to show off the company’s upcoming BD Live release. In stores on Oct. 7, the classic “Sleeping Beauty” will take advantage of BD Live’s Internet connectivity to enable viewers to chat with one another while watching the film, send video mail incorporating clips from the film, and more.

Dave Hollis, Disney’s senior vice president for worldwide business development and new technology, explains that besides using these new features to explore a film amongst themselves, consumers could participate in a chat with, say, Miley Cyrus about her 3-D concert film.

You might be able to get a video of a Disney theme-park Sleeping Beauty reading a story to children. The fact that BD Live hooks up Blu-ray players to the Internet - something very few players have the capability to do - means the possibilities for the technology multiply a thousandfold.

“The imagination is the limit of what’s possible to give to consumers these days,” Mr. Hollis comments on the speed of change.

The new technology is pretty exciting, but will consumers want to shell out hundreds of dollars for it when they finally just bought a Blu-ray player?

Early iPhone adopters were so angry about the first $200 price drop that Apple tried to mollify them with a $100 Apple credit. Some commentators say the technology business hasn’t been the same since.

“Apple did - unintentionally - wreak a fundamental change in how consumers look at the splashiness and gotta-have-it-ness of the latest, greatest gadget by its mishandling of the iPhone introduction last year,” says Tom Steinert-Threlkeld, a commentator for the Between the Lines blog on ZDNet (blogs.zdnet.com/BTL). “Consumers won’t forget the lesson that you are likely to pay or way overpay for the first iteration of a product when it is fresh off the truck - and have to live with the first-round bugs and missing features as well.”

Mr. Steinert-Threlkeld says we won’t just see fewer early adopters. We’ll see fewer adopters overall. “If a customer has decent self-control, he or she won’t be buying to have that latest, greatest gadget as a badge of hipness or intelligence. Real intelligence gets displayed when the customer buys something for a real need, not just the need to show something off because it’s cool,” he says.

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