It’s a common question, particularly around the holiday season: should I buy this pricey tech gift now, or wait until a price drop? Compared to prices for concert tickets, home furniture or travel, tech prices have a habit of coming down — and fast — sometimes in just a few short months. Technology is getting much better every year, and consumers are reaping the benefits. Consider, for example, that the cost of computer memory in 2001 was roughly 100 times more expensive than it is now. (The 2015 cost has been rounded to the nearest cent.)
With this in mind, we looked at six popular tech gift categories to see just how much we expect prices to drop over the next 12 months. For each product type, we looked at the five top-rated products from 2014, then tracked how the prices changed exactly one year after their release.
For some categories — like TVs and fitness trackers — the data says you should wait to buy, or at least consider a year-old device. Simply by waiting 12 months, you can expect to knock off around 30 percent of the price.
The results here are unsurprising for the TV market, where manufacturers charge thousands for the latest trendy technology (like 3D TVs before, 4K resolution now and even some 8K sets), while quietly selling older models at bargain prices. Our advice? Skip all the flashy tech and buy a two-year-old TV for around $500.
Meanwhile, fitness tracker manufacturers likely slash prices because the industry is still growing so quickly. Every year, better Bluetooth, GPS and tracking technology arrives, rendering year-old models a little under-featured. If you just want a simple step counter, save $100 and look a year back. But if you want all the latest tech, it might be worth splurging, even at the fitness tracker’s inflated price point.
On the tablet front, manufacturers seem to be realizing that people don’t buy tablets every year, or even once every two years. For this reason, it’s likely that tablet makers are starting to think more like game console manufacturers: set a high price tag, maintain similar specs for several years, then discount slowly and steadily over time. The data says you might as well pick up your iPad Pro or Surface Pro now, not later.
Finally, we arrive at headphones, the most static of the six categories. By our numbers, a flagship pair of headphones will only drop 12.5 percent after a year on the shelves. Consumers seem to care little about the release date for a good pair of headphones, so manufacturers are happy to keep price points steady, sometimes for more than a year.
The bigger issue with headphones, however, might be how much the industry relies on marketing. Like with wine, headphone quality is harder to judge than most people think, and only a select few can really tell the difference between a $60 and $200 option. Our advice: skip trendy brands like Beats, Bose or Skullcandy, which tend to markup their prices, then buy Sennheiser, Audio-Technica or even Sony at three quarters the price. Just don’t wait. The data says it’s not worth it.