As owners of the Chevy Volt, Kindle Fire, iPhone 4S and Jawbone Up have discovered in recent months, being the first on the block to own a brand new product may carry some extra risks.
The Volt battery, for example, caught fire during crash tests, according to U.S. safety regulators. Amazon and Apple are both busy responding to an avalanche of complaints: the batteries for the iPhone 4S reportedly drain abnormally fast and complaints about the Kindle Fire say it has a slow browser and balky touch-screen. And the Up, a health-monitor band that syncs with an iPhone app, is temporarily off the market while Jawbone retools the faulty hardware.
A Chevy spokesman said that while the company hasn't had any instances of the battery catching fire "in the field," it has offered to buy back Volts from any concerned owners. Apple did not respond to requests for comment. An Amazon spokeswoman says there will be an over-the-air update by the end of December "that will improve performance, touch navigation" and other features for the Kindle Fire.
And Jawbone chief executive Hosain Rahman says the company is "working around the clock to identify the root causes" of its gadget's problems and has offered users a full refund. Users can claim the refund and keep their working band, he says.
Of course, experts point out that early adopters have always risked paying premium prices for product as makers work out the bugs for the next version. But they say buying first has become increasingly problematic. "The pressure to introduce products at an even greater pace means more gadgets make it to market that should have stayed in beta," says Paul Gagnon, director of North America TV Research at DisplaySearch, a division of market research firm NPD Group. That comes back in returns, which consulting firm Accenture expects will cost retailers and manufacturers $17 billion this year -- up 21% from 2007. Returns tend to be higher in the first few months after a product launches because of defects but also from buyer's remorse and perceived faults with a device's usability, says Terry Steger, a partner at Accenture.
Despite the risks, many early adopters simply can't wait to get their hands on the latest new thing. For those, experts recommend adding some protection.
Shop return policies
Consumers who are a little wary about a product may want to make sure they can take it back, experts say. Some stores offer longer return periods than others. Target, for example, offers 45 days on e-readers and tablets, more than triple Apple's 14-day policy and two weeks more than Amazon's 30 days.
Check credit protections
Paying with the right card may pay off in more safeguards, according to Andrew Eisner, director of content for electronics information site Retrevo.com. Some credit cards offer an extended return period for items the store won't take back, while others provide a partial refund if the price drops shortly after purchase (as happened with the first iPhone), says Eisner. For more long term problems, many cards automatically double the manufacturer's warranty.
Review the reviews
One way to get some clues about a new product, say experts: independent product reviews published on websites such as CNET.com and Engadget.com, and early user comments on retail sites. Some early adopter pitfalls are more easily fixed than others or affect only people who use the gadget in a particular way, Gagnon says. Complaints about software can often be fixed quickly, for example, and require nothing more on the buyer's part than a little time installing a free update or two. He recommends using more caution if the problem is the hardware: Those flaws may not be fixable until a later generation of the product solves the problem.