Are you happy with your current smartphone OS? If not you might want to decide soon because it is becoming increasingly difficult to switch. Within a few years expect to become tied to a tech-osystem with little or no chance to switch.
In the past few weeks companies like Apple and Microsoft have made extensive product reveals that all point to one objective for tech companies: get you to become *insert tech company here* power users. That means buying any and all of their products from smartphones to tablets to PCs to game consoles and everything in between. They are doing this by tightly integrating all of their services and products so that owning more than one enables added functionality. This concept isn’t new, in fact it dates as far back as consumer technology itself. The difference is that these services are being integrated at a profound new level, the OS level, and being pushed across more devices than ever before.
Microsoft has done an excellent job of showing where the market is headed with their recent product announcements across the board. For Microsoft the integration is noticeable from first sight. All new Microsoft products are starting to employ the same tile based menu layout and UI (called the Metro UI). While this change is only cosmetic, it represents their work to integrate all their different OSs into one. They are trying to tightly relate their services so that they can unite all of their customer bases under one common flag. This means more Xbox capability in Windows and Windows Phone, app integration across the board, and OS integration so that tasks started on one device can be seamlessly picked up on the next. Eventually, there is some notion that the form factor of the device will be lost entirely. There will be one OS that runs across all platforms, and perhaps only one device that plugs into larger form factors (much like the Motorola Atrix).
Apple too is pushing integration in a big way in order to convince customers that owning Apple everything pays off. They showed this integration from Mac OSX Lion, which aims to be more and more like iOS, to iCloud which wants to pull all of your Apple data and services into the cloud and make them accessible from any iDevice. The rest are all there too, from Sony integrating Playstation Services across devices and with Android, to HP building a WebOS ecosystem for phones, tablets, PCs, and anything else they can run the OS on. Even companies like Google with fragmentation within Android and between Android and ChromeOS, is pushing for tighter integration and control with each release of a new OS.
The trend is simple, every tech company wants to have their foot in the door on every major platform and now they want to integrate across those platforms to show why buying into their franchise will pay off for consumers. Fortunately for consumers, this trend offers a lot of huge benefits. All these companies are developing these products for the ease of the consumer, so that we can switch across our multiple platforms and get to our content quickly. In that regard there is no question that the growth of ecosystems is positive for consumers.
Unfortunately, the development of each of these individual ecosystems has a huge downside for consumers looking for choice. It essentially makes it impossible to switch. If all of my digital life is locked up in iDevices, or Microsoft products, then even switching my phone means that I either also switch all of my other devices as well or lose a lot of functionality. This problem is exacerbated if you look at the Motorola Atrix model, switching my one device means that now my laptop, phone, tablet, and game system have all switched. This is a huge problem especially if I decide that individually Apple makes the best OS for phones, Google the best for tablets, and Microsoft the best for PCs.
The problem also extends to one of cost and compatibility. This problem is present even now especially as smartphone users try to switch platforms and find that all of the apps that they have invested so much money and data into are no longer compatible on their new device. Apps don’t live on a widely used standard like music or photos. So anyone ready to take the plunge and switch ecosystems will find that they loose all their apps and a the data that comes with it. Not only is switching all of your devices to a new system very costly, but so too is switching to new apps.
Essentially, the rise of tech-osystems is inevitable, companies are pushing it like never before and consumers are infatuated with the benefits of having integrated systems. Unfortunately, unless the standards for app and data transfer open up, consumers may not realize that the ecosystem they are buying into now may be the only one they can ever use.