As mobile devices have become the personal information-processing interface of choice, many individuals seem to swiftly follow fashion. Yet, the literature is silent on how early adopters of mobile devices overcame uncertainties related to shifts in technology. Based on purposive sampling, this paper presents detailed insights into why and how five closely related individuals made the decision to adopt the iPhone before it was available through traditional supply chains. Focusing on the role played by social networks, we analyze how adoption threshold, opinion leaders, social contagion, and social learning shaped adoption behaviors and outcomes. The analyses confirm that network structures impacted the early decision to accept the iPhone; they show that, when facing uncertainty, adoption decisions emerged as a combined result of individual adoption reflections and major influences from the social network as well as behaviors observed within the network; and, they reveal interesting behaviors that differed from expectations. In conclusion, we discuss implications for both theory and practice.
Keywords: adoption, social networks, adopter characteristics, qualitative research
Advanced mobile devices, such as smart phones and personal digital assistants, have become ubiquitously available and have changed the ways people organize relationships (Haddon 1997). Mobile users carry their device everywhere, they use it around the clock, and it has become their personal information-processing interface of choice. The symbolic value of these devices has increased, and many mobile users, therefore, swiftly follow fashion and change brand, as new devices and features become available. As a recent example, when Apple introduced the iPhone to the U.S. market in July 2007, 270,000 devices were sold in the first thirty hours of the launch weekend1 and eight million in total in the U.S. during 2007 (Brightman 2008). The original iPhone was subsequently made available in five other countries: the UK, Germany, and France (November 2007), as well as Ireland and Austria (March 2008). However, early use of the iPhone was not limited to these countries. Countless users around the world acquired iPhones from the six official markets, and started to use them in their home countries. To do so, they needed to unlock the phone from the SIM-card and adapt it to network providers other than Apple's exclusive partners, i.e., AT&T in the U.S. During this period, one million iPhones, equivalent to 27 percent of the 2007 U.S. sales, were adapted to other networks.2
While shifts in technology occur regularly, change of technology brand bears several switching costs for adopters, including initial fixed costs, uncertainty about quality of device, and time spent on learning how to use the new technology (Hall and Kahn 2003). For early adopters, these costs are even higher as they have no references to imitate or expert users to consult. Nevertheless, the literature is silent on why and how individuals overcome these uncertainties as they decide to adopt a new voluntary technology such as a mobile device. Early adopters have imperfect information about the benefits of a new technology, and, therefore, their behavior largely depends on acquired human capital, relevant information (Wozniak 1987) and in some cases also on access to unique technical skills (Hall and Kahn 2003).
Against this backdrop, this study investigates why and how five closely related individuals made the decision to adopt the iPhone before it was made available through conventional supply chains. Contextual factors, such as one's social environment, generally have significant impact on technology adoption and usage behaviors (Lewis et al. 2003; Magni et al. 2008). The role of social networks has also been used more broadly to understand social behavior (Van den Bulte and Lilien, 2001; Vidgen et. al., 2004) and information systems practices (Cambell and Russo 2003). …