The Apple Watch & the shift in the Technology Adoption Lifecycle

In this article, I will briefly introduce this concept of the diffusion of innovation, before explaining how the Apple Watch fits into this paradigm, and how Apple have attempted to ruffle the entire lifecycle. 

There's a famous management concept, coined by Rogers, Bohlen and Beal called the diffusion of innovation, an approach to explaining how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spreads through a marketplace.

Rogers argues that diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the participants in a social system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations)

Diffusion of Innovation according to Rogers is based around four main elements that help spread the 'influence of a new idea': 

  • the innovation (A perceived 'new' introduction by an individual can be considered innovation);
  • adopters (The minimal unit of analysis.);
  • communication channels (Diffusion takes place amongst people or organizations, communication is the transfer of knowledge conduit);
  • time (Passage of time necessary for innovations to be adopted); and
  • social system (Combination of influencers (media, social networks) that influences a potential adopter). .

The premise is that in order for innovation to succeed and to be self-sustainable, it must be widely adopted, at a rate that eventually hits critical mass.

Diffusion of Innovation (Roger's bell curve)

Diffusion of Innovation (Roger's bell curve)

The curve above describes the lifecycle of adoption/acceptance of new products or innovations, based on adopter groups, shown in a classic normal distribution curve. The following is a brief explanation of the various adopter categories of the lifecycle (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations):

Innovators are willing to take risks, have the highest social status, have financial liquidity, are social and have closest contact to scientific sources and interaction with other innovators. Their risk tolerance allows them to adopt technologies that may ultimately fail. Financial resources help absorb these failures.
Early adopters are individuals have the highest degree of opinion leadership among the adopter categories. Early adopters have a higher social status, financial liquidity, advanced education and are more socially forward than late adopters. They are more discreet in adoption choices than innovators. They use judicious choice of adoption to help them maintain a central communication position. 
Early Majority adopt an innovation after a varying degree of time that is significantly longer than the innovators and early adopters. Early Majority have above average social status, contact with early adopters and seldom hold positions of opinion leadership in a system (Rogers 1962, p. 283)
Late Majority adopt an innovation after the average participant. These individuals approach an innovation with a high degree of skepticism and after the majority of society has adopted the innovation. Late Majority are typically skeptical about an innovation, have below average social status, little financial liquidity, in contact with others in late majority and early majority and little opinion leadership.
Laggards are the last to adopt an innovation. Unlike some of the previous categories, individuals in this category show little to no opinion leadership. These individuals typically have an aversion to change-agents. Laggards typically tend to be focused on "traditions", lowest social status, lowest financial liquidity, oldest among adopters, and in contact with only family and close friends.

Enter Apple Watch and the fattening Early Adoption

Apple have been earlier adopters in the industry by-in-large, and that has been a phenomenon that has only increased over time. Traditionally with the iMacs, Apple have had to change processors and operating systems fundamentally that required previous owners to have to buy new computers, rather than a slow gradual transition that we see with Windows computers.

The Apple Watch, because of the media buzz providing one of the most protracted launch periods of Apple's history, from it's announcement in September 2014, minimal information has been leaking up until the launch in late April.

Every marketing expert knows that reaching critical mass means getting to the early adopters as soon as possible, but because of the insane amount of media focus on the wrist-device, Apple had managed to shift the diffusion bell curve, producing a bell curve that has a larger early-adopter and innovators group.

According to unofficial accounts, it has been estimated that Apple Watch pre-orders had surpassed 2.3 million, on a new device channel.
— The Verge (April 16, 2015)

Obtaining a larger chunk of the early adopters is not just beneficial because it introduces momentum earlier on, resulting in a larger middle curve in the bell, but the early critical mass allows for Apple's newest device to be in the hands of millions early on, just before the annual Apple Word Wide Developers Conference next week, which allow for critical insights into how the devices are used, what new ways of using come out, and so forth.

This is certainly even more lucrative than the fact that Apple outsold Android Wear's yearly sales in the space of two days, the ability to have 2-million-plus early adopters testing a device that you cannot even buy from Apple retail stores until later next month. From an academic perspective , diffusion of innovation goes at a difference pace at Cupertino.