There is a basic fact about modern life that cannot be denied. Everyone is out to get your money. It’s not just a capitalist society, it’s pretty much a capitalist world. There are more buyers than sellers, of course, but the sellers, especially those in technology, are doing almost anything and everything so you will part with some of your hard earned money.
One of the techniques being used these days is called ‘vendor lock-in.’ Lock-in is nothing new, of course.
In economics, vendor lock-in, also known as proprietary lock-in or customer lock-in, makes a customer dependent on a vendor for products and services, unable to use another vendor without substantial switching costs. Lock-in costs which create barriers to market entry may result in antitrust action against a monopoly.
Apple does exactly that. Mac users who want to switch to Windows would have to buy all new applications and that sets up an additional cost, which is also a barrier to the switch. Ditto for iPhone and iPad. And, if we allow Apple to store all our data online, then there’s another barrier to switch from Apple’s ecosystem to another.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not accusing Apple of misdeeds. Vendor lock-in is common and Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Samsung, and everyone else in the technology gadget business wants to lock-in their customers and prevent them from switching to a competitor.
Microsoft executive Aaron Contorer to Bill Gates in 1997:
The Windows API is so broad, so deep, and so functional that most ISVs would be crazy not to use it. And it is so deeply embedded in the source code of many Windows apps that there is a huge switching cost to using a different operating system instead. It is this switching cost that has given customers the patience to stick with Windows through all our mistakes, our buggy drivers, our high TCO, our lack of a sexy vision at times, and many other difficulties. […] Customers constantly evaluate other desktop platforms, [but] it would be so much work to move over that they hope we just improve Windows rather than force them to move. In short, without this exclusive franchise called the Windows API, we would have been dead a long time ago. The Windows franchise is fueled by application development which is focused on our core APIs
Does that sound a bit familiar?
Apple courts app developers with tools and revenue and access to hundreds of millions of customers. For all its talk of openness, Google locks customers into using their applications to store data (and free is a strong motive) and be used on any platform. All you need is a browser. Even the popular Android OS is not completely open as Google dangles the carrot of popular apps in front of device manufacturers. Microsoft and Adobe have moved software suites into the subscription model and both Office and Creative Cloud are “so broad, so deep, and so functional that most” customers would be crazy to try to switch.
My brother, bless his misguided heart, owns a Samsung Galaxy S6 but has had so much trouble with the device that he’s primed and ready to buy an iPhone and forsake the Samsung lock-in and Android ecosystem. But he’s afraid to switch because, 1) he needs to buy all new apps, 2) there’s pain associated with any such massive switch, and, 3) iPhones and apps costs more than Samsung and Android apps.
That, folks, is an ecosystem lock-in, but, of course, it works the other way, too. It’s not just Apple. Everyone– Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Amazon and others– want your money, and if you’re a customer already, they don’t make it easy to leave their ecosystem lock-in, either.