Anybody who’s even mildly interested in technology has felt it. It’s why people stand in line all night for the new Xbox or Playstation, or one of those products whose name starts with an “i.”
It’s gadget lust.
Companies like Apple have become so good at slowly amping up the mystique and hype around forthcoming new products that it’s easy to get swept away by the excitement. The process starts long before the launch, in the tech media and blogging communities, which busily pump out gossip, speculation, and half-baked analysis–because people like to read it. I do too. It’s fun.
As the launch date gets closer, the story of the upcoming hot gadget spreads throughout Blog Land and into the mainstream media. By that time, it’s being widely discussed in the tech community–at conventions, meetings, and mixers.
Then the ad campaign starts, and the excitement kicks up a notch as we learn more about the product, and about the lifestyle it fits into. The ads are cool-looking, the work of some of the best ad agencies money can buy. They’re also very scientific: The words and pictures shown in the ads are the product of exhaustive market research. And then there’s the star of the ads (usually)–the gadget itself, which has been carefully designed and built for the wants, needs, hopes, and dreams of the target market.
Next comes the launch event, a lavish live event where the tech company’s revered leader spells out the true story of the product. Magic ensues. A swarming tech press reports the event on real-time blogs–and this is only the beginning of a whole new wave of coverage around the product.
With all this going on, what chance to we have?
Somewhere along the way, the new gadget captures your imagination, and you get that “ooooooooh” feeling–like when you bought your first Sony Walkman as a teenager–and then, somewhere deep inside, you’ve given yourself permission to lay down the plastic and bring the coveted gadget home.
As launch day gets closer, the anticipation and excitement build to a fever pitch.
On the eve of launch day, you’re sitting at the computer, checking out all the leaked photos and specs for the product. You imagine yourself using it, carrying it around, and being seen with it. Not only is it going to be superfun to use, but it’s a blingy new accessory that will improve your image and pump up your tech cred. You set your alarm for 6 a.m. Your heart beats fast as you imagine yourself at the front of the line–about to buy the product.
The magical feeling is sustained even after you’ve laid out your plastic and driven home–and up to the moment when you break the seal and carefully remove the gadget and any accessories from the box. You assemble it and turn it on. . .
Then as you use your new device, you realize something has changed. All of a sudden, something’s missing. The excitement and anticipation are over, the adrenaline rush has faded, and the realization begins to set in that your new toy is just another gadget.
And worse yet, the marketing cycle for the next hot device has already begun, and you can only watch because you’ve just spent all your extra money and you might even be locked into a service plan.
For some people, the whole experience described above is enjoyable and well worth the gadget’s cost. But for others, especially those of us on a budget, it’s important to take a more utilitarian approach to the way we buy our tech stuff. This is easy to do, of course, if you’re not ga-ga over some product that might or might not be a necessary part of your line-up.
Following are some creative approaches to defeating gadget lust and confronting the question of whether the gadget du jour is really worth your money.
Examine Your Thinking
When you’re attracted to a gadget, ask yourself why the thing is appealing to you, and answer honestly. Is it the design and look and feel of the device that attracts your eye? Or will the device actually perform a set of tasks that are necessary to your life and work?
Accessory or Tool?
I’m not saying it’s always bad to buy a tech gadget that you value most for the image it projects of you. A small business owner might benefit by showing potential clients that he or she is tuned in to the coolest new tech. It may benefit one’s social life too.
What I am saying is, be honest with yourself about your reasons for buying. If you’re buying something mainly for accessory value, measure the expected improvement to your image against the price of the product, and make sure it’s worth it.
Avoid Tech Porn
Lots of trendy tech blogs focus more on tech rumors, leaked photos, and speculation than they do on hands-on testing. Such ‘tech porn’ sites are really part of an extended hype machine that is mostly controlled by the companies releasing the products.
It’s a good idea to look at these sites with a lot of skepticism–especially if you’re trying to use the things you pick up from them as the basis of your buying decision. On highly anticipated products, you should make sure to read at least one negative review from a publication with a critical viewpoint. Even if you don’t agree with it (or don’t want to agree with it), it will help balance your perceptions.
There’s nothing wrong with tech porn sites, unless you are prone to getting easily revved up about new products, then going into debt buying them.
Buy Products, Not Lifestyles
The people in the TV commercials and in the ads are not like you. They’re not even real. They’re designed to play upon our aspirations and desires, then associate the answers to those longings with a product. After you buy the product, you’ll still be you, but $300 poorer.
Watch Tear-Down, Break-It, Blend-It Videos
During the launch of Apple’s iPad, I myself began to get swept up in the excitement, and to imagine owning one of the devices. It was a response to the mystique and cool factor that seemed to enshroud the product. Apple can create this aura like no one else. The trick is to get rid of the mystique, the aura of preciousness, that surrounds the device before you buy it.
I found that nothing does this better than watching the product being taken apart, dropped, broken, or blended. In one video, PCWorld’s Tim Moynihan did a marvelous job of both lampooning Apple’s marketing and demonstrating that the iPad looks a lot like other tech products on the inside. I was pretty much cured after I watched it. The ever-popular “Does It Blend” videos also tend to remove a product’s holy glow.
Don’t Buy on Launch Day
Many people have profited by waiting a while before buying a hot new gadget. Buying on launch day can put you into that cycle of lust, anticipation, and regret that I described at the beginning. But there’s a far more pragmatic reason for waiting.
Some new products launch with bugs or defects that get fixed only later. If it’s a software defect, chances are the problem can be fixed in the weeks after the launch. If it’s a hardware defect, it may be a few months before a new and improved version of the product arrives in stores.
Taking a wait-and-see approach gives you the chance to buy a more mature product, often for less money than you would have spent on launch day. Buying later also means the hype will have died down, giving you a better chance of making a decision with a clear head.
Make a List of Features
If you are buying a product because of the tasks it can do for you, you may still have to decide between a cooler (and more expensive) gadget and one that’s less blingy but also less pricey. It’s a good idea to make a written list of the tasks you need the product to perform, and and another list with the specs you feel the product needs to handle those tasks.
If the less-expensive product has the specs (size, memory, screen type, and so on) that you need, choosing it might be worth the savings. When considering the more expensive product, remember that its real functionality becomes the most important thing after the appeal of its design and brand begin to fade.
Focus on Price per Feature
Gadgets have a careful mix of specifications that are based on the use scenarios that the manufacturer has in mind for the target market. The manufacturer’s use case might or might not match the way you will use the product. When choosing between competing products with different feature sets, try to assign dollar values to each feature, then decide which device will give you the most bang for the buck.
Love the One You’re With
Take a good look at the device you already have before rushing out to buy the new version. Does it do most of the things the new version does, but maybe just a little slower? Do you really need the new features offered by the new version of the device, or is it the look-and-feel, the cool design, and the newness that are attracting you?
Try some new tricks on your old device. Install new software. Buy new accessories, such as headphones. Change the screen environment. Hack it. You may even find some new features that you didn’t know were there.
If you’re successful you’ll have saved yourself a chunk of change and saved one more gadget from the landfill.