“Entanglement” is one of the proverbial holy grails to which businesses aspire in their customer interactions. Essentially it is simply a snappy way of describing a deeply integrated relationship that makes it difficult for customers of a given business to leave for a competitor. In the business-to-consumer world tens of billions of dollars are spent annually to attract customers and the trick then becomes retaining them. Some customers stay because they can’t leave without incurring financial penalty (i.e., two-year mobile phone contracts), because the competition offers non-differentiated goods and services (i.e., power companies), or because the quality of the offering surpasses the consumer’s desire to change (i.e., the good/service is “good enough”). In other cases people truly feel passionately about a product or brand to the extent that they’re willing to make an emotional and “physical” commitment to the business (i.e., brand loyalty) – often paying a premium price to be a customer. In any of these cases smart businesses can and will try to use these factors and create other barriers preventing their customers from being wooed away by the competition.
In the case of Apple, they’ve been practicing the art of entanglement for many, many years. Prior to the renaissance they’re currently experiencing, they were well-known for enticing educational institutions to select their computers by offering deep discounts and touting their easy-to-use interface – hoping that a generation of future buyers would grow up accustomed to and comfortable with their platform. In the current age Apple has dramatically improved their sophistication with the creation of the iPod and iTunes. They’ve made it incredibly easy to purchase, organize, and play your music (and who doesn’t love music?) with this integrated platform. Then came video in the form of television and movies that could be downloaded straight to your iPod. The iPhone offered an entirely new type of entanglement – and I don’t simply mean the rabid fan base it created – through the introduction of apps that were tightly integrated with the device. The iPad only furthered this commitment – if you buy a few dozen (or hundred) apps for iOS and all the while you’re becoming more comfortable with the overall Apple “experience” – are you going to want to switch? It is worth mentioning that Apple was able to create this entanglement opportunity for themselves time and time again largely because they had the first-mover advantage not once, but three times in introducing these devices. They “cracked the code” on the digital media player, smartphone, and tablet computer markets through brilliant product design and attracted tens of millions of customers.
Following yesterday’s product launch, many fans and critics alike panned the event having been disappointed that a blockbuster new iPhone 5 was not among the new widgets. However, Apple had a pair of aces up its sleeve – first the reiteration of the iCloud storage service that promises to synchronize all of your media across any (Apple) device you use. Secondly they announced their all-new, natural language “personal assistant” called Siri. While the entanglement opportunity with iCloud is pretty obvious – once your entire digital library is online and is managed seamlessly across all of your myriad devices, will you really want to go through the effort of migrating that elsewhere? The real question is – how does Siri advance this agenda?
Based on a DARPA project from nearly 10 years ago, Siri can answer basic data-driven questions, perform simple tasks apparently based on standard personal information manager operations (i.e., reading/sending messages, setting reminders, etc.), and it takes dictation – so what’s the big deal? The big deal is that this move begins to materially erase the line between the user and the machine in a way that companies have only dreamed about in the past. In the same way the click-wheel on the iPod and the touch-screen on the iPhone forever changed the way humans interact with machines, the best interface is no interface. Furthermore – and perhaps more relevant to Apple’s entanglement strategy – this is simply another version of their educational computing strategy from the 1980’s and beyond: get them hooked on the Apple experience, the Apple way.