What Is A Technology Adoption Curve? The Five Stages Of A Technology Adoption Life Cycle

In his book, Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore shows a model that dissects and represents the stages of adoption of high-tech products. The model goes through five stages based on the psychographic features of customers at each stage: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggard.

Why is the technology adoption life cycle useful?

There is a peculiar phase in the life cycle of a high-tech product that Moore calls a “chasm.” This is the phase in which a product is getting used by early adopters, but not yet by an early majority.

In that stage, there is a wide gap between those two psychographic profiles. Indeed, many startups fail because they don’t manage to have the early majority pick up where the early adopters left.

Understanding the technology adoption of a product helps you assess in which stage is a product and when the chasm is close to how to fill the gap and allow the early majority to pick up the void left by the early adopters.

That void is created when the early adopters are ready to leave a product that is about to go mainstream. The market is plenty of examples of companies trying to conquer the early majority but failed in doing so, and in the process also lost the enthusiasts that made that product successful in the first place.

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Crossing the Chasm with Seth Godin

In a blog post entitled attention vs. the chasm, Seth Godin highlighted:

One way they’re thinking about it:Attention is the new innovation.I don’t agree…

…Moore’s Crossing the Chasm helped marketers see that while innovation was the tool to reach the small group of early adopters and opinion leaders, it was insufficient to reach the masses. Because the masses don’t want something that’s new, they want something thatworks, something that others are using, something that actually solves their productivity and community problems.

…Early adopters are thrilled by the new. They seek innovation.

…Everyone else is wary of failure. They seek trust.

What are the stages of a technology adoption life cycle?

The stages of a technology adoption life cycle, it comprises five main psychographic profiles:

  • Innovators
  • Early Adopters
  • Early Majority
  • Late Majority
  • and Laggards


Innovators are the first to take action and adopt a product, even though that might be buggy. Those people are willing to take the risk, and those will be the people ready to help you shape your product when that is not perfect.
As they’re in love with the innovative aspect behind it, they are ready to sustain that. This psychographic profile is all about the innovation itself. As this is sort of a hobby for them, they are ready and willing to take the risk of using something that doesn’t work perfectly, but it has great potential.

Early Adopters 

Early adopters are among those people ready to try out a product at an early stage. They don’t need you to explain why they should use that innovation.
The early adopter has already researched it, and she is passionate about the innovation behind that, however, while the innovator will adopt the high-tech product for the sake of the innovation behind it.
The early adopter will make an informed buying decision. In that stage, even though the product is only appealing to a small niche of an early adopter, it’s great and ready.
Those early adopters feel different from the early majority. And if you “betray them” they might probably leave you right away. That is where the chasm stands.

Early majority

The early majority is the psychographic profile made of people that will help you “cross the chasm.” Getting traction means making a product appealing to the early majority. Indeed, the early majority is made of more conscious consumers, that look for useful solutions but also beware of possible fads.

Late Majority 

The late majority kicks in only after a product is well established and it has a more skeptical approach to technological innovation and it feels more comfortable in the adoption only when a product has gone mainstream.


Laggards are the last in the technology adoption cycle. While the late majority is skeptical of technological innovation, the laggard is adverse to it.
Thus, unless there is a clear, established an advantage in using a technology those people will hardly become adopters. For some reason, which might be tied to personal or economic aspects, those people are not looking to adopt a technology.

Other factors influencing technological adoption

One of my favorite authors is Jared Diamond, a polymath which knowledge goes beyond books, education or instruction. In fact, Jared Diamond is an ecologist, geographer, biologist, anthropologist.

Whatever you want to label him, the truth is Jared Diamond is just one of the most curious people on earth. As we love to put a label on anything, we get impressed by as many labels one person has. 

However, Jared Diamond has been just a curious person looking for answers to compelling and hard questions about our civilization. The search for those answers has brought him to become an expert in many disciplines. 

In fact, even though he might not know what’s the latest news about Google‘s algorithm update, Apple’s latest product launch or what features the new iPhone has, I believe Jared Diamond is the most equipped person to understand how the technological landscape evolves. The reason being Jared Diamond has been looking at historical trends in thousands of years and dozens of cultures and civilizations.

He’s also lived for short periods throughout his life with small populations, like New Guineans. In his book Guns, Germs & Steel there is an excerpt that tries to explain why western civilizations were so technologically successful and advanced compared to any other population in the world, say New Guinea.

For many in the modern, hyper-technological world, the answer seems trivial. With the advent of the digital world, even more. We love to read and get inspired every day by the incredible stories of geniuses and successful entrepreneurs that are changing the world.

Jared Diamond has a different explanation for how technology evolves and what influences its adoption throughout history, and it has only in part of doing with the ability to make something that works better than what existed before.

Why the heroic theory of invention is flawed

If you read the accounts of many entrepreneurs that have influenced our modern society, those seem to resemble the stories of heroes, geniuses, and original thinkers. In short, if we didn’t have Edison, Watt, Ford, and Carnegie the western world wouldn’t have been so wildly successful. For how much we love this theory, that doesn’t seem to resemble history.

True, those people were in a way ahead of their times. They were geniuses, risk-takers and in some cases mavericks. However, were they the only ones able to advance our society? That is not the case.

Assuming those people were isolated geniuses able to come up with the unimaginable; if the culture around hadn’t been able to acknowledge those inventions, we wouldn’t have traces as of now of those discoveries. So what influenced technological adoption?

The four macro patterns of technological adoption

According to Jared Diamond, there are four patterns to look at when looking for technological adoption:

  1. a relative economical advantage with existing technology
  2. social value and prestige
  3. compatibility with vested interests
  4. the ease with which those advantages can be observed

The relative economic advantage with existing technology

The first point seems obvious. In fact, one technology to win over the other doesn’t have just to be better; but way more effective. To think of a recent example, when Google took off the search industry. When Google got into the search industry, it was not the first player. It was a latecomer. Yet its algorithm, PageRank, was so superior to its competition that it quickly took off.

What’s next?

Social value and prestige

This is less intuitive. In fact, for how much we love to think of ourselves as rational creatures, in reality, we might be way more social than we’re rational. Thus, social value and prestige of a technological innovation play as much a key role in its adoption as its innovative aspects.

Think about Apple’s products. Apple follows a business model that can be defined as a razor and blade business model. In short, the company attracts users on its platform, iTunes or Apple Store by selling music or apps for a convenient price, while selling its iPhones at very high margins.

However, it is undeniable that what makes Apple able to sell its computers and phones at a higher price compared to competitors is the brand the company was able to build over the years. In short, as of the time of this writing, Apple still represents a status quo that makes the company highly profitable.

Compatibility with vested interests

In Jared Diamond‘s book, Germs, Guns & Steel to prove this point he uses the story of the QWERTY keyboard. This is the keyboard most probably you’re using right now on your mobile device or computer. It is called in this way because its first left-most six letters form the name “QWERTY.”

Have you ever wondered why do you use this standard? You might think this has to do with efficiency. But instead, that is the opposite. This standard has been invented at the end of the 1800s when typewriters became the standard.

When typists were typing too fast those (page 248 of Germs, Guns & Steel) typewriters jammed. In short, they came up with a system that was thought to slow down typists so that typewriters wouldn’t get jammed anymore. Yet as the more than a century went by and we started to use computers, and mobile devices instead of switching to a more efficient system we kept the old one. Why?

According to Jared Diamond, the most compelling reason for not being able to switch to a new standard was the vested interests of small lobbies of typists, typing teachers, typewriter and computer salespeople.

The ease with which those advantages can be observed

When a technological advancement can be easily recognized as the fruit of the success of an organization, country or enterprise, it will be adopted by anyone that wants to keep up with it. Think, for instance, about two countries going to war. One of them has a secret weapon that makes them win the war.

As soon as the enemy that lost the battle finds that out, next time that weapon will also be adopted by the losing side. Think also of another more recent example. As big data has become a secret technological weapon used by Obama to win his electoral campaign. So Trump has used it to take over his competitors during the last US political campaign.

Now that we know what are the four macro patterns of technological adoption and how the technology adoption curve might work it might be easier for you to cross the chasm!

Technology adoption curve examples

Let’s now take a look at the technology adoption curve of the iPhone.

Apple iPhone

The Apple iPhone was released to the United States market in July 2007, selling 1.39 million units before the end of the year according to Statista. While the reasons behind the success of the iPhone are well-known, it is important to note that the earliest iteration was rather different from the one consumers are accustomed to today. 

The first iPhone had no third-party apps and ran exclusively on AT&T’s slow and unreliable cell network. What’s more, it was only available in five other countries: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Austria. There was also a general belief that the iPhone would never attain a significant market share. Techcrunch and even The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) predicted its imminent demise, while there were less surprising but similar predictions from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Blackberry CEO Mike Lazaridis. 

Innovators and early adopters

According to the technology adoption curve, innovators were the first to use the iPhone. Many were content with overlooking some of the flaws and feature omissions in lieu of its impressive touch screen, camera, and intuitive design. 

Innovators were also tech-savvy enough to purchase an iPhone in one of the five approved countries, unlock the SIM card from AT&T, and adapt it for use in their home countries. This would prove critical to the product’s early aspirations as instructions on how to jailbreak the iPhone spread across the internet. At this point, the curve transitioned from innovators to early adopters who shared their experiences with friends and family and realized the iPhone was complementary to social media sites such as Facebook.

Early majority

In 2008, the App Store was launched which turned the iPhone into anything from a motion-sensitive video game device to a means of paying bills or route-finding. 

Around the same time, Apple officially released the smartphone in more countries without exclusivity deals with cell network carriers. With increased functionality and global reach, the early majority of the technology curve started using the iPhone. By the first quarter of 2012, almost 25% of all smartphone shipments were iPhones.

Late majority

Between 2006 and 2016, Apple grew its business revenue by a factor of ten. Revenue for 2016 was $215.6 billion, with 63% of sales that year driven by the iPhone. This was helped to some extent by younger generations of consumers with disposable income who needed to purchase every model update as a matter of life and death.

However, it was also helped by the late majority of individuals who were perhaps more price-conscious and preferred to purchase an older model that had already been on the market for a few years. Many of these consumers were aged 40 and above who were essentially forced to purchase a smartphone to communicate with friends and family members.


Today, it is estimated that 83.89% of the world’s population owns a smartphone. While many of the remaining 16% are children, others are laggards who are reluctant to use smartphone technology over traditional forms of communication such as telephones. Some may lack the technical nous because of their advanced age, while others avoid smartphones for personal, cultural, or idealistic reasons.

Others reside in third-world nations and lack the financial means to purchase a smartphone. These individuals may be forced to wait many years before an iPhone purchase becomes a viable option.

Tesla technology adoption curve


In this example, we’ll discuss the technology adoption curve of the Tesla Model 3 and electric vehicles in general.

To enter the EV market, Tesla used a niche down strategy, showing the viability of EVs through high-performance sports cars. 

Innovators and early adopters


Tesla started taking pre-orders for the Model 3 sedan on March 31, 2016. Touted as the “working man’s electric vehicle”, the company was able to secure 325,000 reservations for the Model 3 without spending a cent on paid advertisements. 

Each individual, who forked out a down payment of $1,000 for a vehicle with specifications yet to be ironed out, was motivated to do so because of Tesla’s ability to win over innovators and early adopters. Indeed, thousands of affluent consumers were more than willing to buy into Musk’s vision of a future where personal transport is green and high-tech.

According to the diffusion of innovations theory put forth by Everett Rogers, these consumers equate to around 16% of all buyers.

Early majority


However, it became evident in 2019 that Tesla was having trouble moving buyers from early adopters to the early majority – a process author Geoffrey Moore described as crossing the chasm and a point where many products falter.

One indicator of Tesla’s trouble came from lackluster sales of the Model S and X and increased Model 3 competition from the likes of Audi, Jaguar, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz. Many also speculated that Tesla was cannibalizing its more profitable models with the Model 3.

Many of the Model 3’s features have also been detrimental to its success. These include:

  • Unique interiors – for better or worse, Tesla interiors are a radical departure from what most are accustomed to in a Toyota or Mazda. Most controls are accessed on the vehicle’s enormous screen, but the tech is not driver-friendly or intuitive and could be considered unsafe while driving.
  • Perceived quality issues – while many of the quality control issues associated with previous Tesla models have been resolved, there is still a perception that Tesla models are unreliable.
  • Lack of ride comfort – Tesla manufactures its own seats while competitors source them from third parties. This is to the company’s detriment as the Model 3 seats are known to be rather uncomfortable.

Those inspired by Musk’s vision are likely to look past these issues, but to reach the early majority, the company will need to make the Model 3 more appealing to those who have certain expectations around the purchase of a new vehicle.

As a possible indication that Tesla is making inroads in North America, the Model 3 was the 7th bestselling vehicle for Q4 2019 and the only one with a price point of $40,000.

That same year, twice as many units of the Model 3 were sold in the Netherlands as the second most popular automobile. 

The Model 3 has also more recently reached the early majority stage in Australia

Late majority and laggards

A transitional business model is used by companies to enter a market (usually a niche) to gain initial traction and prove the idea is sound. The transitional business model helps the company secure the needed capital while having a reality check. It helps shape the long-term vision and a scalable business model.

The late majority and laggards tend to be those from older generations who grew up with internal combustion engines (ICEs) or were involved in the automotive industry in some way.

To appeal to these buyers, Tesla must find a way to offer a comparable driving experience.

The range of a Model 3 must be able to match its ICE-based competition to combat so-called “range anxiety” – particularly for those car enthusiasts who like to drive at speed.

Aside from addressing the issues mentioned above, the most obvious way for Tesla to increase its target audience is to start marketing to them.

It must move beyond tech-loving men in their 40s and 50s and market the Model 3 as a safe, comfortable, reliable, and intuitive car brand.

Women drivers are just one example of an underserved and underutilized market segment that the company could target.

Read Also: Tesla Business Model

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What is chasm in technology adoption life cycle?

In his book, Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore shows a model that dissects and represents the stages of adoption of high-tech products. The model goes through five stages based on the psychographic features of customers at each stage: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggard.

What is the innovation adoption curve?

The technology adoption lifecycle is a model put together in the book, Crossing the Chasm who built upon the Diffusion Of Innovations Theory by E.M. Rogers. It highlights how the adoption of high-tech products depends on the way five key psychographic groups think about innovation. The model moves from innovators who look at technology for its own sake, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards who are skeptical about innovation.

What are the four stages of the technology adoption life cycle?

According to the technology life cycle, there are four key stages: research and development, ascent, maturity, and decline depending on the adoption of high tech products by giving main psychographic groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards, each with a different set of features.

What are the 5 adopter categories?

According to the Diffusion Of Innovations Theory by E.M. Rogers, a communication theorist at the University of New Mexico, in 1962, there are five stages of high-tech product adoption based on the psychographic features of customers at each stage: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggard.

Connected Business Frameworks

Lindy Effect

The Lindy Effect is a theory about the ageing of non-perishable things, like technology or ideas. Popularized by author Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lindy Effect states that non-perishable things like technology age – linearly – in reverse. Therefore, the older an idea or a technology, the same will be its life expectancy.

Change Curve

The change curve is a model describing how people emotionally respond to change. The change curve model was created by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to describe the five stages of grief terminally ill people go through. Further versions comprise eight stages that go from denial, anger, frustration, depression, acceptance, exploration, commitment and growth.


The S-Curve of Business illustrates how old ways of doing business mature and then become superseded by newer ways. The S-Curve itself is based on a mathematical concept called the Sigmoidal curve. In the context of business, the curve graphically depicts how an organization grows over a typical life cycle.

Technology Adoption Curve

In his book, Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore shows a model that dissects and represents the stages of adoption of high-tech products. The model goes through five stages based on the psychographic features of customers at each stage: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggard.

Product Life Cycle

The Product Life-cycle (PLC) is a model that describes the phases through which a product goes based on the sales of a product over the years. This model is useful to assess the kind of marketing mix needed to allow a product to gain traction over time or to avoid market saturation.

Creative Curve

In his book, The Creative Curve, Allen Gannett describes how popular ideas follow a relationship between familiarity and preference as an upside-down U. That is the Creative Curve. When something is very new and unfamiliar, we don’t like it that much. Therefore, according to the Creative Curve, the ideas that become popular have a blend of familiarity and novelty. All ideas reach a point of overexposure where they become cliché, and they start to lose popularity and downfall until they grow out of date.

Sales Cycles

A sales cycle is the process that your company takes to sell your services and products. In simple words, it’s a series of steps that your sales reps need to go through with prospects that lead up to a closed sale.

Sales Funnels

The sales funnel is a model used in marketing to represent an ideal, potential journey that potential customers go through before becoming actual customers. As a representation, it is also often an approximation, that helps marketing and sales teams structure their processes at scale, thus building repeatable sales and marketing tactics to convert customers.

Growth-share Matrix

In the 1970s, Bruce D. Henderson, founder of the Boston Consulting Group, came up with The Product Portfolio (aka BCG Matrix, or Growth-share Matrix), which would look at a successful business product portfolio based on potential growth and market shares. It divided products into four main categories: cash cows, pets (dogs), question marks, and stars.


A go-to-market strategy represents how companies market their new products to reach target customers in a scalable and repeatable way. It starts with how new products/services get developed to how these organizations target potential customers (via sales and marketing models) to enable their value proposition to be delivered to create a competitive advantage.

Entry Strategies

An entry strategy is a way an organization can access a market based on its structure. The entry strategy will highly depend on the definition of potential customers in that market and whether those are ready to get value from your potential offering. It alls starts by developing your smallest viable market.

Disruptive Business Models

As pointed out in the book “Unlocking The Value Chain” by Thales Teixeira, business model disruption has followed three waves: unbundling (1994-99), disintermediation (2000-05), and decoupling (2005-onward). Today what’s disrupting the business world is the wave of decoupling. That consists in breaking the customer value chains by identifying valuable activities that can be performed by the decoupler, which can capture a good chunk of the business value from incumbent companies.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Types of Innovation

According to how well defined is the problem and how well defined the domain, we have four main types of innovations: basic research (problem and domain or not well defined); breakthrough innovation (domain is not well defined, the problem is well defined); sustaining innovation (both problem and domain are well defined); and disruptive innovation (domain is well defined, the problem is not well defined).

Innovation Loop

According to how well defined is the problem and how well defined the domain, we have four main types of innovations: basic research (problem and domain or not well defined); breakthrough innovation (domain is not well defined, the problem is well defined); sustaining innovation (both problem and domain are well defined); and disruptive innovation (domain is well defined, the problem is not well defined).

Business Competition

In a business world driven by technology and digitalization, competition is much more fluid, as innovation becomes a bottom-up approach that can come from anywhere. Thus, making it much harder to define the boundaries of existing markets. Therefore, a proper business competition analysis looks at customer, technology, distribution, and financial model overlaps. While at the same time looking at future potential intersections among industries that in the short-term seem unrelated.

Business Scaling

Business scaling is the process of transformation of a business as the product is validated by wider and wider market segments. Business scaling is about creating traction for a product that fits a small market segment. As the product is validated it becomes critical to build a viable business model. And as the product is offered at wider and wider market segments, it’s important to align product, business model, and organizational design, to enable wider and wider scale.

Innovation Funnel

An innovation funnel is a tool or process ensuring only the best ideas are executed. In a metaphorical sense, the funnel screens innovative ideas for viability so that only the best products, processes, or business models are launched to the market. An innovation funnel provides a framework for the screening and testing of innovative ideas for viability.

Four-Step Innovation Process

A four-step innovation process is a simple tool that businesses can use to drive consistent innovation. The four-step innovation process was created by David Weiss and Claude Legrand as a means of encouraging sustainable innovation within an organization. The process helps businesses solve complex problems with creative ideas instead of relying on low-impact, quick-fix solutions.

History of Innovation

Innovation in the modern sense is about coming up with solutions to defined or not defined problems that can create a new world. Breakthrough innovations might try to solve in a whole new way, well-defined problems. Business innovation might start by finding solutions to well-defined problems by continuously improving on them.

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