Gadget Fatigue Sets in

Discussion
Dec 21, 2011
Tom Ryan

In a new survey from Underwriters Laboratories, nearly half of consumers (48 percent) "feel high-tech manufacturers bring new products to market faster than people need them."

At the same time, the survey, part of an accompanying report, "Navigating the Product Mindset," finds two-thirds of those surveyed also "feel manufacturers do not conduct thorough testing before launching new products."

For their part, 89 percent of manufacturers bragged that they are "at or ahead of the curve" when it comes to innovation. The report was based on interviews with 1,200 consumers as well as 1,200 manufacturers in four countries, the U.S., Germany, India and China.

Several technology bloggers felt the survey results underscored the frequent disconnect between the innovation drivers and end users.

According to The New York Times, there are two possible reasons. One is that technology is advancing so fast, it outpaces consumer desires for new features and functions. The other less obvious one is that genuine innovation in many cases is too slow. In other words, new devices are being pushed out with only a few new features or design tweaks as marketers seasonally plot their mega-launches.

"The new offerings companies are pushing out the door every six months or so are me-too products or ones with a just couple of new features or design tweaks" wrote Steve Lohr. "Marketing schedules, not product innovation, are driving the corporate train."

Other tech bloggers said the rush to bring product to market is partly what’s causing the well-publicized glitches of several new products. Software updates were needed to address problems with Apple’s iPhone 4S and are expected to be rolled out for Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Writing for Mobiledia.com, Janet Maragioglio noted that "pushing products to market early only to fix them with software patches and updates after the fact is a model that has been part of the tech industry since PCs first came on the scene." But she likewise agreed that the innovation pace is moving at a breakneck speed.

"As gadgets go out of date almost as soon as they are out of the package, it also could be a matter of time before consumers tire of trying to keep up and decide to stick with yesterday’s model for a while," she wrote.

Discussion questions: Is there a disconnect between marketing schedules and the pace of genuine product innovation? Do you sense any consumer weariness to the constant stream of new technology device offerings?

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17 Comments on "Gadget Fatigue Sets in"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I actually see a disconnect between consumers’ response to a survey and their actual behavior. It’s the same syndrome that leads consumers to tell somebody that they plan to spend less for holiday this year, then go out and shop at a modestly higher rate. Pay attention to facts and results, not stated intentions.

If consumers were truly suffering from “gadget fatigue,” would they line up to buy the latest iteration of the iPhone? Would Apple and Amazon be selling tablets at such a fast pace? Fatigue (a.k.a. poor sales) tends to set in when a tech marketer launches an inferior product, with the BlackBerry Playbook being a prime example in 2011.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Just because a device CAN do something, doesn’t mean there is a NEED. Product innovations used to be designed to fill a need, now the need is drummed up for us after the product. It is an accepted fact of MBAs to put out a product that’s not 100% so you can get customer trial, recoup some investment and you can always fix it soon after with an update.

All of this gets us to where we are with gadget fatigue. And more marketing to tell us why we need it….

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

It’s interesting to read the “pundits” who tout that new products aren’t really needed, and then want to be first in line for the new iPhone. Many times innovation is ahead of consumer demand. Sometimes consumers don’t even know they need a new product until it is on the market. Then, in a short while, they wonder how they ever lived without it.

Consumers will vote with their dollars. They voted that Blu-ray was not enough of an improvement to upgrade from DVD. They voted that smart phones trump regular cell phones.

Let’s hope that the restless pace of innovation does not stop.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I agree with Bob’s statement about the difference between the consumers’ need for and the products ability to do something. Many of the devices being produced do so many things that the basic need they were designed to fulfill is almost a byproduct. This makes the product unnecessarily difficult to use for any purpose. The consumer’s reaction is to elect to stay with their existing version because the learning curve for the “new, improved” version is too steep.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Consumers will buy new technology that comes out once the mainstream consumers understand the needs, how it works, and why it’s better. All too often, new technology doesn’t do the marketing. However, Apple has shown that consumers will keep up with the new toys if you make them easy to understand, and give them compelling reasons to buy. It works.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
9 years 4 months ago

New gadgets are hitting shelves faster than before simply because both the hardware (generic components) and software (freely available open source) have been commoditized. A manufacturer no longer has to develop their own chips, their own circuitry and their own operating system. The “innovation” actually required by a manufacturer to bring a device to market is actually quite modest (and in many cases non-existent). This pace is unlikely to slow down as mobile and tablet computing are growing by leaps and bounds. Yes a lot of these gadgets are duds, but consumers have shown an appetite for gadgetry and technology that is too alluring for manufacturers to ignore.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

This author must be new to the IT industry. What the IT industry sells is more power, easier to use, new things you can do, and so on. There are many users and industry observers that complain about some of their less than satisfactory investments, but history shows that they too succumb to the market hype and buy more.

David Zahn
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

The work of Clayton Christensen and his views on innovation are relevant here. The idea of product features outpacing customer acceptance and integration into needs (or even wants) is one that he explores quite in depth.

Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

When consumer weariness gets in the way of revenue and profit, technology companies will modify their approach. In the meantime, we will see innovation as the driver for new product sales, brand awareness and corporate brand equity.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

While gadget fatigue exists, there is surely a large percentage of consumers who will chase after the next great thing without much encouragement.

Combine this with the drive of tech companies to introduce new products to keep on an expected quarterly revenue pace and the temptation is too much for product introduction to slow down.

I have an instinct that most people only take advantage of a small percentage of capability for a given techie gadget. Since most of us don’t read the manual any more, we only focus on the high points of benefit.

This opens another door for the product pace to remain high. If we don’t know what we’ve missed, we might just buy it as a feature of a “new” product.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

There’s obviously still a buck to be made with the latest and greatest. But all the new rollouts make it more and more difficult for people like me, seemingly in the 1%, to keep up. Six months ago, I bought the latest and greatest Droid cell phone, determined to master it. While attempting to call my wife one morning, I accidentally rerouted several small rivers in Nairobi and, leaning over to tie my shoe that afternoon, I accidentally drafted a check for $400,000 to someone I don’t even like. I’m back to my antique phone, which still makes calls easily, surfs the web, acts as a GPS and takes pictures. I’ve decided that that’s all I need, and won’t be “upgrading” again during this particular incarnation.

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
9 years 4 months ago

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Henry Ford

I like this quote when considering consumer research as the sole driver of innovation. Clearly there’s money in these new innovations (not always profit!). At the same time I get that large portions of the population are not early adopters and will be struggling with the explosion of new stuff out there.

I’m always amazed at the amount of change my grandparents saw during their lives, and clearly that pace of change hasn’t slowed down!

The challenge for retailers and brands in this is navigating what is right for your consumers and how to effectively employ whatever the right new innovations are (in an integrated way).

Verlin Youd
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Fundamentally, product release plans/schedules are driven by the manufacturers assessment of the market demand and their projected share of that market. Although there isn’t a perfect model, most of the time it is the willingness of consumers to purchase the latest product, whether it includes “true” innovation or just a few new “bells and whistles,” that is the primary driver of the release pace, not the other way around. There may be situations where products are released too often or too soon, but most are self-correcting as lack of sales, customer dissatisfaction, and reduced profit or loss are natural incentives to match customer demand.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I see a disconnect between designers/R&D/creators and marketing which in turn creates disconnects with retailers and consumers. In my experience, some consumer electronics companies are so “innovation” driven that stuff just keeps getting built because it can and consumer “needs” are assumed rather than assessed. The marketing teams are then challenged to back their strategies into new products and iterations that have already been developed and placed in the pipeline, forcing a steady stream of sometimes haphazard products into the market. At that point, they have to get something out of it regardless.

Another frustration that consumer electronics companies often express is corporate assuming that direct-to-consumer marketing is the same as retailer marketing (with little attention being paid to the latter).

Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

If you build a better mousetrap, the shoppers will buy, BUT…I have to admit, the technology is running faster than the demand, so prices will stay low for 6 month old high tech stuff, which is great. I have more apps on my smart phone, than I’ll use in 50 lifetimes, so I would agree with this article. Phew…I’m worn out already, oh, and by the way another new phone just came out as I wrote this paragraph. Merry Christmas to all.

Tracey Croughwell
Guest
Tracey Croughwell
9 years 4 months ago
Technology development follows Moore’s law: technology improves faster and faster over time, at exponential rates. Can you imagine where the world would be if the innovators worked on what the marketers said consumers want? (I’m allowed to say that, I’m a marketer). If you want to know if consumers are weary of technology, take a look at what the average 12-year-old is doing. They are quick to pick it up and often find new ways of using it. If “the curve” is a bell curve, obviously 89% of manufacturers can’t be ahead of it… I see a few companies innovating, followed by incremental advances and “me too” products from the rest. This can probably be said about any industry. I’m not sure that marketing schedules are replacing true product innovation — I think it’s the bureaucracy, competing technology standards and old fashioned big company bickering that slow the pace of innovation. Just having read the Steve Jobs biography, in Apple’s case the marketing schedule often pushed development to finish faster. I would argue that iterative… Read more »
Ronnie Perchik
Guest
Ronnie Perchik
9 years 4 months ago

Depending on the technology, yes, there’s definitely a disconnect. If you look at Apple, they tend to release new versions of their products only 6 months or so on average after the previous version has hit stores.

Some consumers are excited, some aren’t. But the case remains that a lot of times, business comes before the customer experience. And, I think probably at one time or another, all marketers are guilty of it.

But we need to remind ourselves that the end goal here is to provide a product or service that improves the customer shopping experience, and overall, improves the customer’s life. Jumping on the technology train is crucial these days — but your campaign, whether it’s a new product launch or a strategic marketing effort, must be implemented properly, with the right goals in mind.

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