What is an Early Adopter?

Mary McMahon

An early adopter is someone who picks up new technology more quickly than the rest of society. In a heavily technological age, an early adopter has the newest hardware gadgets, the most innovative software releases, and often the most technical skills as well. Early adopters test out and prove the potential merits of products for the rest of the population, which slowly follows through on the growing trend. As a result, every early adopter is an important part of the process behind releasing a technological innovation.

Woman holding an optical disc
Woman holding an optical disc

Early adopters are part of a system known as the "Diffusion of Innovations," an idea put forward by Everett Rogers in a 1962 book of the same name. According to the book, new technology is picked up by members of society in a pattern which resembles a bell curve. At the beginning is a very small percentage of people, known as the innovators. Innovators develop new material and also jump on innovations by other people to improve them or pass them on. The early adopter, one of a group making up approximately 13% of the population, follows close behind.

As other members of society see early adopters utilizing new technology, they start to follow. First are the early majority, leading the formula to the tip of the bell curve. The late majority comes behind, followed by “laggards.” The last category includes people who are resistant to new technology, and thus likely to wait until the a technology is proved to be necessary.

In the 1990s, the technology industry began to rapidly develop new hardware and software products. As a result, the early adopter became a driving force behind the technology sector, as early adopters constantly called for new innovations. They also changed the face of society by being the first wave of people to purchase cell phones, use the Internet, and participate in numerous other technologies which were new to society.

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When a piece of technology starts to diffuse through a society, its climb to social acceptance tends to be slow. New concepts do not always make their way from an innovator to an early adopter. Within the technology sector, a lot of focus is placed on getting products into the hands of the early adopter so that they can explore, experiment with, and promote them. This technique is extensively used in marketing and focus studies, which pinpoint early adopters rather than the whole society. Many technology companies are confident that getting something accepted by an early adopter will result in wider acceptance by society in general.

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