One User, One Tech Brand?

It’s all caused, of course, by the Marketers of the technology industry and, all credit to them, they’ve done a particularly brilliant job at it. The issue is that tech brands are now so “cool” as to create their own cult following, leading to a possible reliance on a single vendor.

Not so long ago, back in the 1990s, mainstream tech-company leaders were seen as nerds; I’m talking about the likes of Bill Gates at Microsoft. The image of the stereotypical computer nerd who lacks social skills but is very good with technology is still an image that resonates today and you can see that in the way that this image is the basis of fictional characters such as in Moss in The IT Crowd and Vector in Despicable Me. At the time at which this image was well and truly formed in people’s minds, desktop computers were mainstream in the home and workplace but the world of computing still seemed to most to be the domain of the nerd.

At this point in time Apple had become the provider of niche products to the industry. Designers, architects and anyone else who needed mass amounts of memory (and could afford it) loved their Macs but the majority were working on Windows PCs that gave more affordable ways to check their e-mails in a marketplace that gave a greater variety of hardware manufacturers.

Then in the early 2000s Apple broke away from high-end computers and launched the iPod. The product was so good, and was marketed so well, that it really brought Apple back into the mainstream. On the back of that the iPad and iPhone products were launched and Apple hasn’t looked back since.

As a lesson in how to manage and advertise a brand this is a lesson to anyone in how to do it properly. However, the downside (to me at least!) is that it’s also created the “Apple Aficionado”. These are people who…

I’m not using this post to knock Apple lovers though the logic in paying a premium, because Apple do charge more than their competitors for similar products, for a device that you can’t make your own (in terms of customising it, etc.) is lost on me. Having said that I don’t answer ‘yes’ to any of the points in the above list. The bottom line is that people are happy to do that.

The advent of the Apple cult, in the numbers involved, has meant that there is an inevitable swing the other way as people purposely try to not follow the crowd. Though not in the same mass movement, you now have people who will increasingly answer ‘yes’ to the above products for technology giants such as Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google. Really it’s incredible and it’s been caused solely by the brilliant marketers at Apple.

Apple, though not alone, is known for nailing down the user experience of their devices, to the point where there is only one experience of it. There is little customisation and the ability to do anything beyond the strict boundaries of what they permit you to do simply doesn’t exist. iTunes on an Android device, anyone? Google apps on Amazon’s Kindle Fire? This is all designed to keep you on a specific vendor and, once again, is a part of the marketing of the product in order to get you to buy that vendor once more when you next go out to add to your stockpile of devices.

What happens, though, if the technology giants get their way with this and start to monopolise individuals, the result of end users having to keep to one brand to have all of their data and like-for-like functionality available on all of their devices? Would this inevitably lead to Apple-households v. Microsoft-households v. Google households, etc.? This situation is exasperated by technology giants no longer keeping to one area (or few areas) of the industry; data giants Google and Facebook are involved in the phone markets, as is Microsoft who are traditionally a software vendor. Amazon, initially an online book store, now have e-readers, tablets and are rumoured to have a phone out soon as well.


My View

Personally I find all of this quite worrying for the future. While market forces, and increased competition between brands, are no doubt a good thing I don’t think it does anything for technology in general to push users solely into one brand.

I like to think that I’m a brand atheist. This term, coined as a result of Apple Aficionados seeing Apple and Steve Jobs as deities, means that no matter which brand of technology I’m using it doesn’t restrict what I can do with it.

I have, at present, an Apple iPod, a Microsoft Windows phone, an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet and a Microsoft Windows laptop. I also use a Microsoft Windows PC at work. What I like about this setup is that, aside from the iPod which is an older model, I can generally get the data I need on all of these devices. My Google calendar and contacts are available, one way or another – though some methods are a little hacky, on all three. My synchronised internet bookmarks and password manager is available on each device. Apps such as Pocket and Evernote mean that content I access on my phone, for example, is available on my Kindle when I get home.

The lack of separation between platform and data has the potential to pigeonhole us all into one-brand end users.