When to Invest in Personal Technology

Investing in technology to increase personal productivity or satisfaction is an interesting proposition. Nowhere is the acceleration of change and pervasiveness of obsolescense as evident as in personal or consumer technology. Take as an example the iPhone. Apple announced the iPhone in January 2007. It was first sold in the United States in late June 2007. 12 months later, a superior product which had increased capabilities, the iPhone 3G was released July 11, 2008. Finally, the 3GS was released on June 19, 2009. The public stir concerning early adopters who had 24 month contracts tied to their products and having to pay full price to upgrade from one generation to the next made the news more than once. This mis-match between product lifecycle and “useful life assumption” (in this case we use the 24 month contract required by AT&T as a proxy) is at the heart of the personal productivity dilemna.
The user or buyer in this case must recognize that within a short time of purchase commitment, something better will come along. This suggests that the payback for the decision, the implied difference between real costs and perceived benefits is short; and it has to be short. Using the iPhone decision, during it’s short life, the Palm Pre was rolled out in June 2009, and the latest incarnation of Google Android is slated to be released as the myTouch 3G by T-Mobile in early August 2009. Is the implication that these are disposables? Are these consumer level purchases really made for a longer duration with specific requirements in mind or are they strictly impulse buys? I think that the heart of the matter, and what distinguished technology investment for business versus technology investment for personal use is that in business, the internal strategic mechanisms guide the roadmap and dictate investments necessary to acheive business goals. In the consumer realm, requirements are laid out by the innovator, the product developer and marketer, who sells features and functionality and convinces the consumer that they are necessary.
The bottom line? If your requirements are clear, find the best solution that meets those requirements and always pause to look 6 months forward for anything new on the horizon before that next personal technology purchase.

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