Early adopters sometimes get stuck with crap productsIf you were one of the estimated 150,000 people (like me) who ordered an iPad in the first three days after Apple began accepting orders for early April delivery, you're probably an early adopter -- made of part vanity, part curiosity, with a willing to pay a premium for the latest and greatest toys inventions.

I'm not sure it isn't wiser to be a secondary adopter, though -- the closets of early adopters are jammed with failures, and even those successes come at a steep cost. Remember standing in line for a $599 8GB iPhone? ATT now sells those for $99 with a two-year plan.

Smart Money recently deconstructed early adopters by studying their digital scat, pointing to seven devices in the past 30 years that helped define the class:

  • The Bowmar 901B calculator
  • Sony Walkman portable cassette player
  • IBM PC5150 desktop computer
  • Apple Newton Message Pad
  • Palm 1000 personal digital assistant (PDA)
  • The iPod
  • The Kindle electronic reader
I had or lusted for all but the Newton. A friend of mine, a true early adopter, keeps a working Newton model that I can play with whenever I wish.

Most of these, however, were successes that bought the alpha users some cachet as a visionary. Look deeper into early adopter closets, though, and you'll find products that broke their hearts. The next time you're annoyed by an early adopter's incessant gadget-love, ask him/her about these products:

  • BetaMax video: The Beta format WAS better than VHS. Was was was.
  • NeXT computer: Among the things Steve Jobs did after he left Apple the first time was create a company to make PCs that ran UNIX. At $6,000, the units were too pricey for even the early adopters.
  • Iridum: The idea was brilliant: put 66 satellites in orbit and offer phones that connect anywhere in the world. The cost, however, was prohibitive for all but the richest clients, and the company quickly fell into bankruptcy. The company was bought for a song in 2001 and has been kept aloft. The U.S.Department of Defense is a major user.
  • AMC Pacer: The car that looked like a spaceship, at least that's what some early adopters thought. More deliberate shoppers, however, recognized the car for what it was: a fish bowl on wheels.
  • HD DVD: Once envisioned as the next step beyond DVD, the HD DVD lost a smack-down with Blu-ray.
  • The Segway: Early adopters failed to take into account that the cool devices wouldn't be welcome on the sidewalk, in the street, or on bike paths. Now the favorite ride of mall cops everywhere, the exact antithesis of cool.
  • Microsoft SPOT Smart Watches: Hello, Dick Tracy, your watch is calling. Oh, you'd rather use your cell phone to get your stock market updates, rather than these watches that received info from Big Brother on FM wavelengths? Our bad.

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