by Charlie A. Webb, CPP, CMC
Staff Writer

Early adopters have nothing at all on me, as I am a pre-adopter. Like a little boy pointing at the toy du jour on television, he and I both want it, and we want it now. It doesn’t matter if it’s a prototype offered up at three times its future market value, it tugs at me like a technological tide that I can’t swim against.

But I am not alone. The consumer climate is changing. Early adopters used to be the techno geeks that were the so-called power users of the day. Over the past five years things have changed. Everyone is, or at least fancies themselves as power users. In fact, according to an In-Step survey, over the next five years, Internet power user households will double in number, and nearly 2/3rds of the US broadband households will be power or social users says In-Step. Further In-Step also says that roughly 70-80% of all adopters are clustered around the center and about 10% are very early adopters and 10% are very late adopters. According to their survey, by 2013, nearly half the US households will have an adult who considers them self to be a leading edge or early adopter of technology.

There is no question that there can’t be a negative byproduct of early adoption. I think the two most important things to consider is #1, price. There seems to be a steep curve where cost recovery of the development of these bells and whistles happens, from the early consumers. I know, as I was one of the first proud owners of an I Phone, which by the way, I consider being one of the most outstanding pieces of technology. But that’s a whole other story. The second consideration is that of obsolescence. Let’s not forget about the Newton or the Beta Max system.

Obviously we cannot predict where a new technology is going to lead, but it has been my experience that overall early adoption is still a sound mindset. Even with I Phone’s earliest iteration, its usability and functionality was far superior to other smart phones, which were considered to be in their advanced state of development. I don’t want to test company’s prototypes, but at the same time, technology iterations are certain. I heard an interesting quote about design. I’m sorry, but I cannot recall the origin in order to give credit, but this statement said something very profound to me: “Design is never complete. It is only abandoned.” In other words, if the technology that you purchased continues to go through iteration after iteration, it is just an attribute of a proactive design group. Can you imagine software of any kind not having a patch or fix?

Being in industrial machine development, I have pondered this question long and hard. For the technology that I created for medical device packaging machinery, I have followed Steve Jobs’ mantra of “art ships.” In other words, if we work over and over on our technology until we’re as proud as a new father, the market will often swallow our technology, as we will be obsolete at the rollout. It’s a gentle dance between product launch and prototype, and that’s something that only comes through experience.

Sometimes, for the developer, it’s impossible to see market feedback until it’s a finished, shrink-wrapped product. The VIU system that I developed here at Van der Stahl Scientific is an excellent simple device, and that was my goal – a simple device that can evaluate seals created by medical pouch sealers. It tries to give visual feedback of seal integrity. Once I rolled the product into the market, we discovered quickly after several returns of the device that the customer wanted more. They wanted the ability to record these visual events. Otherwise, visual seal inspection became evanescent. Enter the VIU2 system. This new visual inspection device that uses the same lighting and optics as our earlier system, but this time features an important difference. It has the ability to record the date, the time, the operator’s name, the LOT number, serial number of the machine that created the seal, etc. This was an important add-on that made the device much more usable for our customers.

It was hard to take the criticism early on for the first VIU system, but any innovator knows that criticism is the byproduct of technological bravery. One thing I felt passionate about is not having our customers who bought the earlier VIU device to suffer from this giant technological leap forward in our visual inspection system for medical seals. So, we offered a trade-in or trade-up to the VIU2 system.

So again in closing, I would have to say that the early adoption of technology is far better than the late adoption. You may pay more at the front end, but you will have the most important access of use and time. Again, the I Phone that I purchased from the very first rollout gave me a few years of greatly heightened productivity. Had I waited I would have been suffering through pop mail servers, micro-keyboards, as well as a host of other user-unfriendly devices of the I Phone’s smart phone counterparts. So, I continue to scan the Internet each morning for what’s new behind every block. And will push ahead looking for what is next as a technological explorer.