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The Tech Buyer's Dilemma: Timing The Plunge

If you're one of those people who covet the latest, greatest thing (assuming you can afford it), life's been pretty tough for you lately. The announcements of new handheld electronic gadgets — and rumors of those to come (Apple fans are standing by) — have come so rapidly that it's been hard to keep up with them all.

Say you bought one of those much-buzzed-about $200 Google Nexus 7 tablets when they came out a few weeks ago. You still remember that smell of something new during the unboxing. Well, not too many days went by when rumors emerged of a smaller version of the popular iPad hitting Apple stores sometime this fall.

And that wasn't too long after Microsoft unveiled its plans to enter the tablet market with its Surface line. Then Thursday Amazon founder Jeff Bezos showed off the latest versions of the Kindle Fire tablet, priced well below the iPad.

The frenzy doesn't stop with tablets. New smartphones seem to be announced almost daily. The Samsung Galaxy S III has received wall-to-wall coverage in the tech press, and TV watchers would have a hard time escaping ads for the device. Last week, both Nokia and Motorola unveiled their latest smartphones to mixed reviews.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the iPhone 5, which, as is always the case, has been anticipated since the previous version.

Apple has scheduled an announcement for Wednesday and it's likely that its latest smartphone will be unveiled then. If rumors (and fake or real photos) are to be believed, the new iPhone will have a larger, thinner 4-inch screen, run on faster 4G phone networks and have a smaller connector. If history repeats, fans will wait in long lines and millions of iPhones will be sold.

With billions at stake, a rapidly shifting market that's seeing tablets supplant laptops and PCs, and the holiday buying season approaching, it's not surprising that so many new products are coming at such a hectic pace. And it's unlikely to slow.

Demand for consumer electronics has been one of the few bright spots in the economy. And manufacturers are convinced that the market for tablets and smartphones will continue to grow. It remains to be seen whether the battle will be decided in a price war — especially where Apple is concerned. It has managed to keep — and grow — a loyal fan base that hasn't minded paying a premium for perceived quality. But, if it does release a smaller iPad, it's clear that Apple is feeling the pressure, too.

So where does that leave you, the consumer?

The dilemma, when technology is concerned, has always been whether to buy now or wait a bit longer for a better, perhaps cheaper, and shinier gadget to come along. That decision hasn't gotten any easier. So go head, take the dive, but don't come crying when the next iThis or Galaxy That comes out a week later.

(Anybody want a slightly used Nexus 7?)

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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