We should buy things just before they get replaced (but we probably won’t)

Posted on by Guy Cookson

walkman

When I was growing up I remember my Dad would caution against buying things when they were newly launched – which of course is the exact moment most young people want to buy something.

“They won’t have ironed out the issues yet,” he would say. “Wait until it’s been out for a while, then they will have fixed the teething problems.”

Anyone that’s downloaded the latest version of iOS to their phone, or bought a car manufactured soon after the model’s launch, will attest to how true this is. When products are new they tend to have problems. Bugs are the price of admission for early adopters.

With software this isn’t really a big deal – issues that occur might cause an annoyance for a few days, but they are usually fixed quickly with a minor update.

Hardware, on the other hand, can be much more problematic. When I was twelve and my new Walkman model had a habit of unspooling tape there wasn’t much I could do about it. People that bought the same model a few months after launch probably didn’t experience the same issue, by then Sony will have updated the problematic components.

The lines are starting to blur, however, as Tesla has demonstrated. When the Model S was delivered to their first set of customers the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, except for one thing. Drivers used to creeping forward of an idling petrol-powered automatic car, when the brake is lifted, were perturbed by the fact their new electric car didn’t do this. No problem – Tesla’s are wifi enabled, and so the company released an over the air update so owners could choose to enable this feature. An instant fix that benefitted both current owner and future buyers.

Benedict Evans has a new post that takes a broad look at how entire technologies evolve and reach their pinnacle, just before they get superceded:

The development of technologies tends to follow an S-Curve: they improve slowly, then quickly, and then slowly again. And at that last stage, they’re really, really good. Everything has been optimised and worked out and understood, and they’re fast, cheap and reliable. That’s also often the point that a new architecture comes to replace them. You can see this very clearly today in devices such as Apple’s new Macbook or Windows ‘ultrabooks’ – they’ve taken Intel’s x86 and the mouse and window-based GUI model as far as they can go, and reached the point that everything possible has been optimised. Smartphones are probably at the point that the curve is starting to flatten – a lot has been optimised but there’s still work to do, especially around cameras and battery life, and of course GPUs for VR. That curve will probably flatten out just at the point that AR starts to start shipping.

I’d like to be able to say from now on I’ll only buy mature products that are nearing the end of their lifecycle, safe in the knowledge all the issues have been resolved. But I’m too interested in new technology for that. Sorry Dad!

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