Never Be the First to Buy New Gadgets

Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong

Last updated 19 October, 2016

If there's anything Singaporean consumers can learn from the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, it's that being an early tech adopter has few advantages.

If the exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has confirmed anything, it’s that you shouldn’t rush to be the first buyer for gadgets. Now we know most electronic devices are too boring to explode, but safety isn’t the main reason.

The fact is, when you're a customer, there are a lot of risks in being an early adopter and many advantages to being a latecomer.

First and Second Mover Advantage

First mover advantage is the edge that comes from being first. Second mover advantage is the edge that comes from moving in later, and learning from the mistakes of others. Businesses debate all day on which is better for them.

One thing is clear, though: as a consumer, there is virtually no first mover advantage. Being the first to buy a new gadget is like being the first to test a brand new roller-coaster: it might be a fun experience, but the risks outweigh any potential rewards.

Here’s why you always want second mover advantage while buying:

  • Time for proof of concept
  • Lower risk of flaws and recalls
  • Fewer messy updates
  • More third party support
  • More apps
  • Potentially lower costs


1. Time for Proof of Concept

Even if a new gadget sounds cool, it may work out quite differently in implementation. Remember Apple’s SmartWatch craze? When it was first released, it was hyped as the future of technology.

But as of now, the SmartWatch has been reduced to the level of a fitness band. It turns out most people don’t need to make phone calls on their watch (imagine how awkward that is in a public place), or surf news sites on that tiny patch on the wrist. Virtually the only uses ascribed to it now are as a sports tracker, and a way to see when your email or messages come in.

Oh yes, and to tell the time.

The fact is, some ideas sound a lot cooler than they actually are. Sometimes it’s best to let someone else fork out the money first, and then come and explain that it’s not, in fact, the “next big thing”.

2. Lower Risk for Flaws and Recalls

The Samsung Galaxy 7 is the bomb...literally. After blowing up in homes and cabs, and successfully stopping at least one airplane, this smartphone has been recalled, fixed, and then outright suspended from production.

Needless to say, all this having to exchange your phone is a painful inconvenience. True, Samsung gave out discount vouchers and other forms of compensation; but remember it was still time wasting, and that other companies may not be so generous.

Apple’s iPhone 4, from a while back, had antenna issues. There was no real compensation or help for the buyers for a long time (although it has since been fixed). By not being the first, you’ll hear about these flaws and know not to buy until the issues are resolved.


3. Fewer Messy Updates

These days, it seems like you can’t go for a month without your phone’s operating system needing to be updated. This can take a long time, it bugs you to do it non-stop, and sometimes it bricks your phone. On top of that, you may find that some applications cease to function, due to compatibility issues with the update.

There’s no way to avoid this completely, but guess what: the later you buy, the fewer rounds of updates you have to deal with.

You might want to apply second mover principles to the updates as well: wait till others make the update, and then study the results. You may not want to join their ranks if the update is bad.

4. More Third Party Support

The longer you wait, the more third parties will arrive to provide accessories. This is the whole reason Apple is not afraid to remove headphone jacks: they know a horde of companies will scramble to provide better Bluetooth earphones, even if they didn’t make their own.

These days, third parties bring a lot to a device. The Google Cardboard, for instance, is a 3D viewer you can use with any phone (and yes, it’s made from cardboard). Likewise, attachments from smart keyboards down to themed covers will follow in the wake of a new device.

By waiting on your purchase, you can buy at a time when the market is flooded with third party products. This often means more cool peripherals, as well as cheaper ones.

5. More Apps

This is relevant to smartphones, tablets, game consoles, and any other device where third parties produce apps. When a brand new device comes out, with its own operating system, available apps tend to be few. Developers need to learn to code apps for the device, and it takes time for them to come on board (they may not want to waste time creating an app for a device that won’t be popular).

Once things are in full swing however, there will be a wider range of apps to choose from. That’s when you want to move in and buy.

6. Potentially Lower Costs

One way to save money is to be one iteration behind. These days, planned obsolescence means that devices - however new - have a fixed production cycle. New versions may be released as often as semi-annually, or even three times a year.

Usually, there is minimal effect from being one iteration behind. Many users would argue, for example, that there is a tolerable gap between an iPhone 6S and the new iPhone 7 (i.e. you can still run applications and do just fine with an iPhone 6S, without upgrading).

If you’re okay with being a little behind, you can time your purchases to upgrade just before the following iteration. For example, you could use an iPhone 6 now, and then buy an iPhone 7 only when the iPhone 8 is being released.

Yes, you’re behind on the schedule: but you can save significant sums by buying late, as the price of the next iteration will drop. Typically, sites like eBay get flooded with cheap electronics each time a new iteration appears. And again, the technology gap between two iterations is small.

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Either Way, Use the Right Mode of Payment

Whether you buy early or late, be sure to use the correct mode of payment. Gadgets are expensive, so rebates from a cashback credit card or an instalment plan can mean significant savings. S$50 cashback is a good deal, if you are buying a S$1,000+ phone.

Try the Standard Chartered Unlimited Credit Card, which gives 1.5% cashback on anything you purchase, with no minimum spend requred. We've recommended some credit cards you can use for large purchases, and listed a few things to watch out for before using your credit card's instalment plan.

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Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.


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