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With iPhone, It Pays to Be a Late Adopter

It's worth holding out for some tech purchases, such as smartphones, game systems and GPS devices.

WASHINGTON (TheStreet) -- The Apple (AAPL) - Get Report iPhone 3G S smartphone may seem less intelligent once the 4G arrives, but snubbing its $97 Wal-Mart (WMT) - Get Report price for a costlier, unproven device is really dumb.

After Apple released the 3G S last year, the original 3G model was marked down to $99 and sales spiked from 3.8 million in the 3G-only second quarter of 2009 to 8.75 million a year later. However, since Apple's sales figures don't differentiate between the two, we don't know who's getting the video-challenged original recipe and who's shelling out an extra $100 to $200 for voice controls.

If you think it doesn't make a difference, ask

Sony

(SNE) - Get Report

, which only a year ago announced that the 10-year-old PlayStation 2 was outselling the more current PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable combined. Though that situation was alleviated when Sony dropped the price of the PS3 by $100 last fall -- as

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

did with its Xbox and

Nintendo

did with its Wii -- the PS2 is a prime example of a proven, price-friendly tech product undermining an anticipated upgrade.

More on 4G How Fast are 4G Phones, Really?

"It's a long-established rule in electronics that if you hold out a little bit longer, particularly for a brand-new product like the iPad or first iPhones, you're likely to get a better deal," says Paul Reynolds, electronics editor for Consumer Reports. "In many cases with mature products, as well, they've achieved a level of performance where the incremental gain with each new processor, for a computer, or each new successive version of a digital camera line -- which are refreshed very often -- may not be something that's really critical."

Across the tech sector and in every electronics store, there are scattered examples of the benefits of being a step behind. Few people know this better than the plasma television-purchasing public, which has been the prime target of the 3-D push.

Samsung

wants $1,800 to $3,800 for its 50- to 63-inch 3-D plasma televisions, while

Panasonic

is seeking $2,500 to $3,000 for its new

Avatar

-playing plasma models. However, a large subset of consumers who don't feel like shelling out for new 3-D-compatible Blu-ray players, $100 to $200 pairs of glasses and copies of

Clash of the Titans 3-D

are more likely to pick up Panasonic's well-received 50-inch Viera TC-P50C1 for $800 or Samsung's 50-inch PN50C450 for $50 less.

"There have been some advancements in plasma, notably the addition of 3-D, but in many ways plasma technology has been somewhat stable and very reliably delivering a good picture for many of the brands we looked at," Reynolds says. "Going to the past generation of the plasma set really is not taking that big a risk, and you really can get some good deals."

Readers just now buying into e-books have been similarly rewarded for their sloth. Last summer, when

Amazon's

(AMZN) - Get Report

Kindle 2 and its 6-inch screen was selling for $359 and the newly released DX with its iPhone-style rotating 9.7-inch screen was just $130 more, first-timers were content to let first adopters play pioneer just out of their price range. After the Kindle 2's price plummeted to $259 last fall -- following the release of a $199 5-inch Sony Reader and forcing the newly released

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Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

Android-powered

Barnes & Noble

(BKS) - Get Report

Nook reader to match it -- bargain readers and their timely technical upgrades gave consumers better options than their small smartphone screen or the immoderate and inscrutable Apple iPad.

Service-based devices, especially GPS devices, are a case in point.

Garmin

(GRMN) - Get Report

,

TomTom

,

Magellan

and other navigation-based companies offer free traffic services with many of their devices that -- while not ideal in all case or locales -- draws a clear dividing line between them and newer products supported by subscriptions to

Sirius XM

(SIRI) - Get Report

, Microsoft's MSN Direct and other services. Garmin's new Nuvi 265T, for example, may not have the camera, Wi-Fi connectivity or e-mail contacts of the new 3G-capable Nuvi 295W, but, at $180, it's $100 less than the newcomer and boasts the free traffic access that its suped-up stablemate lacks.

-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.