2012
05.11

Did you buy a personal computer soon after the first green-screened Apple II hit the market? Were you in line for your Droid the morning it went on sale? If so, you might qualify as an early adopter. You like to be at the forefront of technology and you’re willing to pay the price to do so.

There has always been a curve for adoption of a new technology. Traditionally, there are different categories of adopters, as defined by sociologist Everett Rogers. The categories include innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. While some people—the innovators—snap up new technology right away, some people wait a long time to accept changes.

But evidence suggests the time it takes for a technology to move through the various stages of adopters may be speeding up. An article in MIT’s “Technology Review” indicates smartphones may be the fastest spreading technology ever. Though of course, there’s no way to know how quickly knowledge of the wheel got around after the first guy shaved the edges off a rock and said, “Hey, this can roll!”

The “Technology Review” article states: “It took almost a century for landline phones to reach saturation, or the point at which new demand falls off. Mobile phones, by contrast, achieved saturation in just 20 years. Smart phones are on track to halve that rate yet again, and tablets could move still faster.”

Part of the reason for the blazing-fast penetration rates for smartphones and tablets is they don’t require any wires to be installed. You just buy it, activate it, and off you go.

I think there may be another reason for the rapid growth of smartphones and tablets, which also explains why they are moving faster than traditional cellphones. Both smartphones and tablets are multipurpose devices. You can make check email, watch movies, listen to music, video chat, and smartphones allow for voice calls as well. The radio, TV, landline phone, and early cellphones each did one specific task. But the multiplicity of uses for the latest connected devices make them so useful people feel they can’t afford not to have one.

Of course, this also turns these new products into replacement devices for a number of old products. A smartphone can replace a landline, a portable music player, a camera, a gaming system, and for some people even a laptop. That’s a pretty powerful device. It’s no wonder they’re spreading fast.

It’s difficult to imagine a new category of device coming along and moving even faster, but no doubt it’s possible. We often can’t imagine how a new technology will affect our lives until it’s already on its way to mass adoption. But when a new multipurpose device comes along, expect it to move fast.

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