In the Battle of the Ecosystems, No One Wins

While I was excited today at some of the announcements Google made at I/O, I was also troubled: there was an awful lot of Google Play, which is fine, but the Nexus Q announcement just left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s a product that has cool use, but the only demonstrated use of that product is in Google’s closed Play ecosystem, a tactic that smells entirely too much like Apple.

The traditionally held dynamic is that in a competitive market, the consumer wins. Competitors force each other to innovate and also force prices low. The problem is when the competition is between large, closed ecosystems involving multimedia content, the consumer will always lose. Google may make more of an effort to make their content available cross-platform than Apple does, but at the end of the day Play is just another iTunes store. I want to see better from Google.

Closed ecosystems gain enormous inertia as consumers begin to “buy in” to them. The more purchased media I have on (iTunes/Google Play) the less appealing and more cumbersome a switch to another ecosystem becomes. This inertia counterbalances normal competitive forces allowing for effective lock-in of customers without the need to continually court and re-convince customers to stick around. This is basically Apple’s whole business model, but it isn’t sustainable forever.

Apple’s domination of the digital content space is going to come to an end, and it isn’t going to be ended by a competitor that, for all intents and purposes, is identical. It’s going to be ended by Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, and other subscription services that challenge the very nature of traditional content distribution. Simply put, I don’t ever want to buy another movie, song, or book. I want access to everything, all the time, legally and with enough flexibility to do so when and how I wish. We have the technology, we just lack the right set of licensing agreements.

If Google wants to eat Apple’s lunch it shouldn’t be announcing the fact that you can now buy DRM’ed movies in Google’s store just like you can in Apple’s. It should announce a partnership with Netflix and Spotify that lets you subscribe to both services with a single bill. It should make its Nexus Q so seamlessly compatible with popular subscription services that Apple TV seems like a joke.

I’m sick of walled-off ecosystems. I will never, ever “purchase” content that I can’t freely reformat and redistribute in whatever way I see fit. Subscriptions at least offer me a middle ground: in exchange for giving up complete freedom over my viewing experience, I pay a small amount for access to huge libraries of content. That’s the future, and that’s where I will be from now until everyone else agrees with me. In the battle of the ecosystems, the first one that draws a line in the sand and says “no” to traditional distributions will be the real winner.


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