It Doesn't Always Pay to Line Up Early
Whether or not you believe that early adopters of new tech always get screwed, history proves that buying the latest gadget on day one isn't always a great idea. Sometimes, expensive products quickly become dirt-cheap, hype transforms into obsolescence, and early support is rewarded with a stab in the back. Consider these examples of the 15 biggest early-adopter fails (and the year they let us down) and tell us if a tech company has ever treated you worse.
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Sega 32X (1995)
Flying high off the success of the Genesis/Mega Drive, Sega became a little too eager to jump into the 32-bit era. The 32X, released in late 1994, was a peripheral that plugged into the top of the Genesis, and was supposed to be like an entirely new console. But with the launch of the Sega Saturn looming, most consumers cheerily ignored the add-on. Those who didn't were stuck with a product that Sega discontinued less than a year later.
Apple iMac G3 (1998)
When Apple released the first iMac all-in-one computer in August 1998, the machine was stylish, colorful, and hopelessly outdated almost immediately after purchase. Within the iMac's first eight months on the market, Apple upgraded the specs three times, so if you waited until April 1999, you had a 333MHz processor instead of a 233MHz CPU, an extra 2GB of storage, an additional 4MB of graphics memory and--most important for Apple fashionistas--a choice of five more colors.
Windows Me (2000)
By now every techie knows that Microsoft's Windows Me operating system was a buggy, unreliable mess. When the OS launched in September 2000, however, the attitude among pundits was more "you don't really need it" than "avoid it like the plague." Still, I pity anyone who ignored the advice just to have Microsoft's latest OS; PCWorld editors dubbed it the fourth-worst tech product of all time, and readers voted it the second-most annoying.
RIM BlackBerry 5810 (2002)
Research In Motion's transition in 2002 from PDAs to smartphones wasn't the most elegant. The company's first phone for the North American market, the BlackBerry 5810, lacked a speaker and microphone for voice calls, so you had to use a wired earpiece. CrackBerry addicts who couldn't wait for a proper phone got bad news three months later, when RIM unveiled a trio of new models that would launch later in 2002--no earpiece required.
Blu-ray Players 1.0 (2007)
The triumph of Blu-ray over HD DVD wasn't all good news for clairvoyant early adopters. Blu-ray players introduced after October 2007 include on-board storage; more important, however, they can play picture-in-picture commentary and connect to the Internet for interactive functions. Earlier models couldn't make the upgrade and gain those features. In other words: Thanks for your service in the format wars, but don't expect any additional benefits.
Original Apple iPhone (2007)
Although the iPad and iPod have conditioned people to expect yearly updates for Apple gadgets, the original iPhone was an infuriating exception when it launched in 2007. Two months after Apple released its game-changing smartphone, the price dropped to $399 for the 8GB model, down from $599. Apple then discontinued the 4GB version, which originally sold for $499. Early adopters were livid. One woman sued. To paraphrase Apple's response to its angry customers: Take this $100 store credit and shut up. The tactic must have worked: The next-generation iPhone 3G sold 1 million units in three days.
Original Microsoft Xbox 360 (2007)
Video game consoles are always expensive when they launch, but the Xbox 360 went above and beyond the call of punishing early adopters with the now-infamous Red Ring of Death. To fix overheating consoles, Microsoft set aside more than $1 billion and extended users' warranties to three years. But that wasn't the only gripe with early Xbox 360s; the first models also lacked HDMI output.
Windows Vista Upgrade Program (2007)
Thanks to a free upgrade program, Windows Vista's earliest adopters should have been the people who bought new computers shortly before the OS was ready. Instead, horror stories abounded, with PC makers taking weeks or months to push upgrades out to their customers. But look at it this way: By the time the upgrades arrived, some of Vista's bugs had been fixed.
The HD DVD Format (2008)
HD DVD is the quintessential cautionary tale against picking sides in a format war. The fight with Blu-ray barely lasted two years, beginning with the debut of Toshiba's first HD DVD player in March 2006 and ending with the company's abandoning the format in February 2008. HD DVD adopters were left with worthless hardware and an obsolete movie library. Warner Bros. offers an HD DVD to Blu-ray exchange program, but participation costs $5 per disc plus shipping and handling--just another expense for cutting-edge consumers.
T-Mobile G1 (2008)
Are you a Google diehard who brags about owning the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1? Congratulations, you're also stuck with a smartphone that can't officially upgrade past Android 1.6. More upgrades are technically possible--hackers have even equipped their G1 handsets with Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)--but T-Mobile and HTC, the maker of many Android phones, probably are hoping you'll just buy a new phone.
Lala Music Service (2009)
Although Lala began as a CD-trading service, eventually the company settled on a business model that let you buy unlimited streaming of individual songs for 10 cents each. Lala even had an iPhone app in the works that could cache songs for offline listening. But in December 2009, Apple acquired Lala; the company shut down the service five months later. As a consolation, Lala gave paying customers their money back in the form of iTunes credit at 99 cents a song, allowing them to retain just about a tenth of their streaming Lala libraries from the very service they were likely trying to avoid in the first place.
Amazon Kindle (2010)
The Kindle's transformation from luxury gadget to impulse buy isn't based on a single moment but rather on a series of price drops that broke the hearts of early adopters. If you bought a Kindle 2 in February 2009, it cost $359. Five months later, $299. Three months after that, $259. By June 2010, the Kindle 2 cost $189--and if you thought that was a good time to pull the trigger, July brought word of the Kindle 3, including a Wi-Fi model for $139. In less than a year and a half, the Kindle had become thinner, lighter, and $220 cheaper.
3DTV and James Cameron's 'Avatar' (2010)
Avatar was supposed to be the film that sold 3D to the masses, but even now--15 months after the film's box office debut--you can't buy a stand-alone retail copy of Avatar on 3D Blu-ray. That's because Panasonic locked up exclusive rights to bundle the movie with its 3D TVs and starter kits until February 2012. Trying to build a 3D Blu-ray library with a Samsung or Sony TV? Hope you like Piranha.
Intel Sandy Bridge Processors (2011)
Product recalls are bound to happen sometimes, but unlike your typical faulty power plug or bad battery, the design defect in Intel's Sandy Bridge chipset means early adopters will have to send their whole computers back for repair. The problem, which can degrade data transfers over time, affects second-generation Intel 6 series chipsets with Core i5 and Core i7 quad-core processors purchased after January 9 and before January 31. So if you were one of the first in line for Intel's new processor with integrated graphics, I hope you still have an old computer for backup.
Motorola Xoom (2011)
Even if you despise Apple and loathe the iPad, give credit where it's due: When the company advertises a feature, it works on day one. Motorola's Xoom, on the other hand, shipped without Flash, MicroSD support, and 4G connectivity. And to get the free 4G upgrade, users will have to ship their tablets back to Motorola and leave the devices in the company's hands for at least six business days. Any bets on whether the Xoom's price will drop first?
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