In a connected world, consumers face ‘lock-in wars’

Consumers will soon have to choose sides, as tech giants target customers in "lock-in wars." (Thinkstock)
Choosing sides in "lock-in wars"

wtopstaff | November 15, 2014 11:20 am

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By Gregg Stebben, Men’s Health

WASHINGTON — As Apple and Google introduce a new wave of inter-connected gadgets, consumers face a new phenomenon — “lock-in wars.”

In the advancing “Internet of Things,” the technology giants are developing and releasing devices for your car, your wrist, your face, your pocket, your refrigerator and the ceiling above your bed.

And they can all talk to each other. That’s where the “lock-in wars” begin.

Once you buy one gadget from Apple or Google, you will have to buy all other gadgets from the same company if you want them to all to be linked.

Both Apple and Google held developers’ conferences last month, and each painted a similar view of the future: A world of devices — phones, tablets, computers, watches, TVs — all very tightly linked.

The advantage for you? You get a call on your phone, you answer it on your computer. Or your tablet. Or your TV. Or your wrist. Or your glasses. Or your refrigerator. Or maybe, with the Google acquisition of Nest, you would answer the call on the smoke detector over your bed.

Reverse the process when you want to send a text. You can do it from anywhere: From your phone, of course. But also from your computer, tablets, glasses, refrigerator or smoke detector.

But there’s the catch. Any connected device can do whatever you need whenever you need it, but that assumes that all your devices are from Apple, or from Google — not both.

If you mix and match your gadgets and operating systems, you will miss out on a lot of interactivity, connectedness and value.

Is the “lock-in war” good or bad for consumers?

Here are the pros:

  • You get a world of devices that are designed to work well together and make your life easier, and more fun.
  • It takes two — or more — to have a war. At least this time around, there are two giant companies competing, and that should raise the bar on innovation for both of them. For many years, Microsoft had most people locked in with Windows and Office, but they had no real competitors and no real incentive to innovate.

And here are the cons:

  • Many people will casually buy a new phone or tablet or computer or smoke detector and not realize they are locking themselves into a particular eco-system until it’s too late.
  • If you decide later you want to switch, it’s going to be expensive, time -consuming and frustrating.

As consumers, here are a few things to think about before buying more gadgets from Apple or Google.

  • Are you ready to make a long-term commitment to one eco-system or the other?
  • Overall, do you have an affinity for one company and its products over the other?
  • Is price an issue for you? And selection? Apple’s products are premium products that often cost more. Google’s Android platform often offers much greater selection and a wider range of prices.
  • Don’t look just at the hardware, but also at the other linked goods and services: Email, calendaring, cloud storage, movie selection, book selection, etc., etc.
  • And is privacy an important issue to you?

This isn’t just a battle between Apple and Google. For other major players, such as Microsoft, Samsung, Amazon and BlackBerry, the stakes are huge, and all of them are looking for ways to pull you into their eco-systems.

Most notable is Amazon and their new phone that, among other things, will ultimately make sure you never run out of toilet paper and paper towels because it will know you’re running low and reorder more for you — from Amazon, of course — before you even know you needed more.

The war for your tech allegiance rages on.

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