Entelligence is a column by technology strategist and author Michael Gartenberg, a man whose desire for a delicious cup of coffee and a quality New York bagel is dwarfed only by his passion for tech. In these articles, he'll explore where our industry is and where it's going -- on both micro and macro levels -- with the unique wit and insight only he can provide.

Black Friday is nearly here with a legion of new gadgets, devices and products all designed to seduce you with technology. Thousands of gadgets are released each year promising to enhance our lives, increase productivity and deliver a sound ROI. Often, however, it seems that many products are released before they're ready for the mainstream and any positives are negated by poor design, buggy code, or just being too far off the curve. This is the pitfall of the early adopter, but remembering Gartenberg's First Law of Consumer Electronics can help avoid some of this pain when you're doing your holiday shopping.

Remember Gartenberg's Three Laws? We're only interested in the First Law today: "There is a worldwide market of 50,000 for anything." Unless you are part of this group of 50,000 -- namely folks that install operating systems on a Sunday afternoon as a form of social entertainment -- you need to look beyond technology for the sake of technology and see if what you're about to purchase meets the three criteria below. If it doesn't, you might want to wait for version 3.0.

  1. Visible differentiation: Is the product really different? When Apple introduced the Macintosh, the product could easily be discerned by anyone at a distance of 100 paces as being vastly different from anything else on the market. Early Macintosh buyers rarely felt buyer's remorse.
  2. Measured increase in your productivity: Is there a measured increase in productivity associated with the technology that will actually benefit you specifically? Mobile computing devices such as notebooks, smartphones and the like all paid early adopters back well in terms of measurable gains that were easily quantifiable, but you want to make sure that those gains apply to you. For example, if you're not a frequent traveler or rarely need to leave your desk, you won't see the same gains on a netbook or new smartphone that a road warrior might.
  3. Justifiable cost of ownership: If it isn't noticeably different or won't increase productivity, a new gadget had better find some way to save you some money.

On the flip side, here's three negative traits to watch out for as well.
  1. Unproven platforms: New products all want to achieve status as a de-facto "platform." The fact is, few technologies will ever achieve this status and it's best beware of technology purporting to be a new platform or paradigm (especially if it can't meet the criteria above).
  2. Performance gains that are measured but not noticed: While vendors often claim vast speed differences, remember that while performance can be measured with a stopwatch, it might not actually be noticeable in real world use.
  3. Partial solutions: Finally, some products seem like good ideas but are really only partially done. Apple's Newton is a great example: it was arguably the finest PDA OS ever created but lacked seamless PC Sync, a critical feature demanded by the market. (A little oversight corrected by the folks at Palm, who built an OS with a fraction of the Newton's power abut achieved much more success.)
And remember, CE doesn't just stand for Consumer Electronics, it also stands for Caveat Emptor.


Michael Gartenberg is vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret, LLC. His weblog can be found at gartenblog.net. Contact him at gartenberg AT gmail DOT com. Views expressed here are his own.

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