Entrapment can be an effective strategy when you are building up a business. Marketers tend to call that customer lock-in. From the perspective of the business this sounds like a great thing to do. Hook the customer to your business and dont let go. From the perspective of the customer it sounds exactly what it is, an entrapment.
There are many examples where entrapment has proven itself as a successful strategy. Think AOL, Facebook, any advertisement driven business, newspapers, banks, cable, insurance or telephone companies. Entrapment works because joining is easy and leaving is nearly impossible. But in most cases these companies haven’t read their history books. Entrapment is a short term winning strategy, but it’s bound to fail in the long term.
It’s human nature they are up against. Sure, we are all lazy, naive, and let things happen for a while. But in the end we don’t like to be trapped. We don’t like it when our freedom (choice!) is limited by the thing that entraps us. And this desire to be free is what drives competition in. Someone creates a monopoly? It’s bound to attract newcomers that blow up that business by doing things differently (remember the innovator’s dilemma?).
The most recent success story wrt entrapment is the iPhone. It revolutionized the mobile space. It showed that a market that was dominated by hardware manufacturers and operators couldn’t really innovate anymore. Apple proved that there were HUGE improvements possible in the user experience of a mobile device. And it has become a huge success.
With the iPhone came entrapment, a strategy Apple has mastered like no one else. Apple dictates every aspect of the iPhone. It has the sole power to decide what app makes it to its store and becomes successful. There are countless stories (here’s one) available by now of developers getting stuck in the horror and randomness of the Apple approval process for their app store.
It doesn’t end there. From the initial launch Apple has even dictates what carrier the end user has to call with. I’ve been using the same mobile operator for years and I am very satisfied with it. And Apple has the audacity to decide that I must change to another operator in order to be able to use their product? For me that was a bridge too far. I do not want to be restricted or entrapped. I want choice.
I’m writing this because I feel it is time to remind Apple of history. Entrapment may be a short term winning tactic, but it’s a long term failing strategy. You can already see the moles digging through this carefully constructed walled garden. Palm has changed it’s app store policy entirely, giving freedom to developers to publish apps. And now there is Android. Where Apple has focussed on building the perfect mobile device, luring people into their trap like sirens, Google has worked with the industry on a new open standard. Where the tech industry initially laughed at their first attempt, I think everyone will now fall silent with the ecology that Google and partners are now creating.
TechCrunch counts an avalanche of 24(!) new android phones in the market. The tech purist will now argue that none of these phone can match the awesomeness of the iPhone. I say BS. The awesomeness of the iPhone will be copied, changed, improved, matched/not matched. It doesn’t matter. Let me repeat that. It doesn’t matter!
The one thing that Apple can’t do and Google just did is offer choice. The empire Apple just started to build up using their dictatorial and proprietary strategy just got blown to pieces by choice. Who do you think will win this battle? Android will flood the mobile market with hundreds of new phones, thousands of apps to go along with it, and presence with every hardware manufacturer and mobile carrier.
Entrapment is great at start. It probably give a lot of adrenaline to dictate what the world looks like. But what Apple and so many others fail to realize is that it’s all short term tactics. In the long term the only winning strategy is a customer that wants to be with you, not one that is trapped into your service. And for that reason the iPhone will be marginalized by its competitors. History already taught us that.