Can’t Escape: Apple and Google are trying to keep you in their universe.

Mobile phones are constantly becoming more powerful. There are also tablets, wearables, and media streaming devices which now interact with one another. While these devices are opening up the possibilities of how we use mobile technology, the branding and compatibility can at times close users’ experiences into one universe. We see this happening in the mobile world today with Android and iPhone users proclaiming their love and loyalty to their respective brands. This bifurcation of users creates interesting dynamics which fuel the competition that gives us new products. But do we benefit as mobile tech users from some such separation of devices?

Apple’s announcement of their new wearable iWatch has (more or less) closed off the Apple universe. Those who have an iPhone, iPod, iPad, MacBook, and Apple TV can now also sport the brand on their wrist. While there are articles posted by tech news outlets such as The Next Web and PC Advisor giving some reasons why not to buy the iWatch, I doubt it will stop many people who already own multiple Apple products. The decision is as simple as this: If you are in the market for a wearable, and you own multiple Android products, you will not buy the iWatch. The same goes for Apple users and a wearable like the Samsung Galaxy Gear. That’s a completely understandable decision, because compatibility is one of the most important features of wearables. In my opinion, this creates issues for mobile users, forcing us to become brand loyal simply because of a lack of choice.

For example, Jon Fingas’ Engadget article asserts that Apple is hoping to tempt some Android users to switch for the larger iPhone screen.  This tactic would work best for MacBook users who have valued Android’s larger screen sizes. By making competing hardware similar but offering software functionality which is best within a specific universe, Apple and Google are removing any incentive for incorporating other brands’ products. The introduction Chromecast and the iWatch are great examples of this phenomenon.

What is most unfortunate about this type of rivalry is that the end user loses some of their ability to pick and choose what works best for them. Of course, there is software which works cross-brand, but the hardware battle remains fierce and unforgiving. Switching costs become incredibly high, for anyone who wants jump ship, and the strength of the two giants causes other capable devices (Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Amazon Fire Phone) to fall to the sidelines.

The record breaking sales of the iPhone 6 this weekend is a perfect example of consumers’ reluctance to change brands for feature sets. Apple’s current customer base clearly wanted a larger screen, and although there have been large Android ‘phablets’ for years, people didn’t switch. Some people just love iPhone for what it is as a product. But I would guess that those users would still find that the loyalty may just be too hard to shake, even if they found an Android phone that better suits their needs.

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