Mobile App Stores Bind Customers to Device

The phone makers are happily creating app stores to supply their customers with 99¢ utilities. They are setting up huge infrastructures and developer programs to court both users and developers alike. The reason: they know that your investment in these 99¢ gems will insure your loyalty to their platform long after their 2-year contract has expired. What you end up with is a platform lock that is every bit the barrier as the Windows/Macintosh switching cost.

Imagine you have the perfect set of utilities and games on your iPhone. Then the unthinkable happens: someone comes out with a newer better phone. This time its not made by Apple but by Google. What are the barriers to switching?

First there’s your phone number. The laws a few years ago changed and now you can bring your number with you when you change providers, provided… From what I have heard, it is not that easy. There are all sorts of provisos and limitations. There may also be an ongoing cost from your old provider whereby they simply forward your old number to your new number.

The second barrier is the annual contract. Know when your contract is up. When that anniversary comes up it is the best time to maximize the value of your commitment. Every month that you wait is lost opportunity for you. When your contract is up, know what the continuance rules are. Some carriers will automatically renew you for another year or two. Read the fine print. Ask.

The new barrier is the device and platform that you have chosen. In the past it was just a matter of copying your address book from one phone to the other. Today, you may have dozens of apps each with their own data.

So how can you protect yourself from this new barrier? By following a couple of guidelines you can leave yourself the option of a future defection.

Choose applications by developers with reach to other platforms. This is hard now but some vendors have already announced that they will port their apps from iPhone to Google Phone. When I moved from my Newton to my Palm I had the luxury of continuing to use some programs that I was already familiar. I of course had to buy them again but in some cases I was able to keep my data.

Choose applications that store their data in the cloud. A good example of this is Evernote. it stores its data in the cloud and you can use any client that you want. The mobile client becomes interchangeable. Other apps like Mint are simply façades for a web site.

Choose applications that are based on standards. That way even if the developer and program are not available, you should be able to bring your data.

What about games. Games for the most part are bound to a platform. Consider the expense of a game to be pure expense and enjoy it.

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