ENTRIES TAGGED "platform lock-in"

The dangers of platform lock-in

Even iOS can lead to a content access and support dead-end

One reason some consumers haven’t jumped on the ebook bandwagon is because they’re concerned the format they select might become obsolete in a few years. Others dismiss that as unfounded pessimism but I have an example of how it can happen, and not with some fly-by-night platform. This problem happened on Apple’s extremely popular iOS platform.

Here’s a link to a problem one of our customers recently reported about our iOS ebook apps. As you’ll see, when iOS 6 arrived it broke our book apps by preventing readers from going beyond the first page of any chapter. This problem was caused by a chain-reaction of events:

  1. We hired a third-party to develop our iOS book apps. This was a pretty popular developer btw, used by many other publishers as well.
  2. That third-party developer was was acquired by someone not named Apple.
  3. Not surprisingly, it became quite clear after the acquisition that support from this developer would evaporate, especially for products on competing platforms like iOS.
  4. When iOS 6 hit and created this problem we had no way of updating the apps.

When the problem was reported my colleague Adam Witwer jumped in and offered the solution outlined a bit further down the thread. In short, we’re removing the apps from iTunes and offering free multi-format ebook bundles to anyone who previously bought the iOS apps.

Rather than being stuck with an iOS-only version our customers will now have access to the content in all major formats (e.g., PDF, EPUB and mobi). It was a painful lesson but it shows that even a platform as rich and robust as iOS can lead to a dead-end for ongoing content access and support.

Kindle Remorse: Will consumers ever regret ebook platform lock-in?

Every ebook purchased today makes it harder to switch platforms tomorrow

If Barnes & Noble doesn’t already have a sense of urgency, especially after last week’s developments, this quote from a thoughtful piece by Joe Arico should help fire them up:

In the age of the e-reader and tablet, every person that purchases an Amazon Kindle, Nexus tablet or iPad should be viewed as a customer Barnes & Noble will likely never get the chance to serve again.

That makes me wonder what goes through a consumer’s mind when they’re deciding which device to buy. I figure they’re mostly focused on brand, price, feature set, and perhaps what their friends and family recommend. But as Arico goes on to say:

Today, when a person decides which e-reader or tablet they’re going to buy, they’re also committing to the online retailer to supply books and other content.

You could argue that Amazon and B&N are making the decision less painful by offering reader apps on all popular platforms (e.g., Mac, Windows, Android, iOS). So the Kindle ebook you buy from Amazon can be read just about any modern device.

But what if Apple decides they’re tired of Amazon customers buying ebooks outside iOS and reading them on an iOS-powered device? Maybe Apple removes the Kindle app from their platform. (It could happen.) Or what if Amazon has a falling out with Google and the Kindle app disappears from all Android devices? You could replace “Amazon” with “B&N” in either of those examples and have the same problem.

Let’s look at this a bit differently: What if B&N comes out with a killer tablet that has all sorts of terrific features not found on any other device? And what if you’ve spent the past 5 years building your Kindle ebook library but the B&N device doesn’t support the Kindle app? Unless you’re prepared to abandon your library you probably won’t purchase and enjoy that new B&N tablet.

This doesn’t seem to be on many people’s radar right now but every ebook purchased today makes it harder for that customer to switch platforms tomorrow. Or, as Arico says later:

A customer who purchases an e-reader is paying for admission into a store they may never leave.

I can’t decide whether that reminds me more of Hotel California or the Roach Motel. Neither option sounds very appealing though.

What do you think? Consumers may not have buyer’s remorse today but is this platform lock-in something they’ll eventually regret?