“Switching between iOS and Windows or Apple and OnePlus will finally be a walk in the park.”

Despite their hero status, the seeming invincibility of the big tech brands might be soon overturned. Interesting news for consumers, but if retail does not prepare itself, it might feel the negative impact of this potential threat.

Impact of ‘agnostic’ software

Only some seem to be aware of the trend that providers of (cloud) software solutions will continue to develop tools, hardware and platforms, that are increasingly agnostic of their surroundings. In layman’s terms this means that software will be ever more compatible with the various types of available hardware and operating systems. This will fundamentally change many of the existing paradigms and issues related to the lock-in effects of the (currently) dominant vendors. For example, Microsoft is quickly losing its former monopoly on certain (business) software, which would only be developed for their own platform in the past. Likewise and more relevant for most consumers, Apple might not even be able to keep the benefits of its existingApp Store to itself as advances in both software and platform design enable developers to facilitate a multi-platform roll-out. Microsoft has already taken a first major step with the launch of Windows 10 to underline this. Not only does it allow developers to easily create a single application that works on all the major form factors (notebook, tablet, 2-in-1 device or mobile phone), an additional tool was also build that facilitates the ability to port Apple iOS apps to their platform.

At the moment, most of us are using either the App Store, Google Play orWindows Store as our go-to place for all of our software ‘needs’. I firmly believe, though, that apps are something we will all look back to in a decade and think‘how old-school that actually was’. With the improvements in software and the higher quality of ‘responsive design’ websites, having a special app to avoid a suboptimal experience should soon be a thing of the past in my eyes.

“I firmly believe that apps are something we all look back to in a decade and think ‘how old-school that actually was.”

Balance of brand power

Besides the fact that consumers will reap the benefits of these developments, I argue that the retailer could see very positive effects as well; if played right. As consumers are better able to switch back and forth between different hardware manufacturers, the balance of power in mature or declining groups might tip from the dominant and powerful tech brands towards the new kids on the block — and potentially the more ‘mature’ retailer. The other side of the coin is that this can also come with significant risks due to the unpredictability surrounding it. One of the consequences might be that the lower need for — and hence a reduced influence of — the established brands negatively impacts retailers which are outperforming the market on A-brands. They might currently have various competitive advantages over other players due to better prices, a more elaborate assortment, better in-store presentations and/or more knowledgeable staff for example. Because dominant brands might lose (some of) their unique appeal to consumers because of the aforementioned, products become less dependent of their reputation and (an even) higher focus on finding the best value for money might be the result. This further enables the unpredictable rise of those new brands, lacking any connection and probably affinity with existing retail.

In summary

To me this all underlines the importance for retailers of keeping an open mind when it comes to platform developments and work closely together with ‘the Apples of the future’. This will both avoid short-term loss of sales and ensure long term business relation with the new technology disruptors. Focusing on the consumer, however, the main take-away could be that we will have more freedom in the long run when it comes to choosing both operating systems and brands altogether. Switching between iOS and Windows or between Apple and OnePlus will finally be a walk in the park.