DEFINITION of 'Early Adopter'

The term early adopter refers to an individual or business who uses a new product or technology before others. An early adopter is likely to pay more for the product than later adopters but accepts this premium if using the product improves efficiency, reduces cost, increases market penetration or simply raises the early adopter's social status. Companies rely on early adopters to provide feedback about product deficiencies, and to cover the cost of the product's research and development.

BREAKING DOWN 'Early Adopter'

The rate of diffusion, or adoption, of a new product by the market at large can vary according to the type of product and its price. Early adopters in the business world face a high level of risk in that they are using a product or technology that may not be perfected, and which may not work with the products used by suppliers and customers or may not be compatible with other products they own.

Risks and Pitfalls of Being an Early Adopter

Early adopters of hardware that is content-reliant may face a paucity of ways they can use their equipment until producers catch up. For example, early adopters of recorded media players may have only had a short list of titles they could choose from when the hardware was first released from manufacturers. The expectation is that over time more content would become available for the chosen media format, but there is no guarantee.

For instance, after the introduction of high-definition television, early adopters waited for television broadcasters to supply more and more of their shows in the new format that took advantage of the higher visual clarity. When it came to high-definition home video playback, a format war arose between manufacturers of Blu-ray and HD DVD players. Early adopters of either disc player were anticipating their format would eventually win out as the high-definition video disc of choice for the market.

In those early years, entertainment companies released movies and other video content might have been published on one or the other format. This left early adopters with limited options on the content their disc players could access. Only rarely did content get published by entertainment companies for both standards. Eventually, the Blu-Ray platform became universally adopted for high definition video discs, leaving early adopters of HD DVD players with unsupported equipment that would have to be replaced.

Early adopters may enjoy a period of prestige by being the first to own a new form of technology, yet they also face the high probability that the equipment or service they are using will be made obsolete in future iterations of the product.

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