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Huge hidden costs of App switching

The more we use some apps, the better they get. That is the case with applications like Evernote and Pocket. We improve muscle memory related to those applications. The more data we have in them, the more value they provide us. They are locking us in.

The cost of proprietary formats

Before you make a choice of starting something in a new application, you always have to consider the hidden costs. Countless times through my computer history have I witnessed incompatible formats dying away and leaving users falling flat out on their face with the data from the application being held, hostage.

When you choose the application you always want to steer away from those evil proprietary systems. This is one of the reasons why I am not using Microsoft office products because they have a proprietary format (.xlsx, .pptx, .docx) that might permanently make me dependent of Microsoft, which is their goal in the first place.

What you aim for are applications that support the usual file extensions like:

  • OPML (for outlines and mind maps)
  • .doc (for files ready for printing)
  • .txt (for all your coding and writing)
  • .xls (for spread sheets)
  • .ppt (for presentations)
  • .csv

You get the idea. You want your file extension to be readable by every app that is widely adopted, or that you can potentially choose in the future.

The exceptions to the rule

Sometimes apps have a proprietary format for a good reason, but you can still feel safe using them, because of the export feature. It can be reasonable to use the application that has a proprietary format, in case it allows for an easy export into the non-proprietary format.

Hypothetic scenario

Your app has a proprietary format, but app developer stops supporting the future development of the app. The app doesn’t suit your future needs and you want to transfer your information from it to another platform. But since you are stuck in the proprietary format, no app can read your data.

You are left with the pricey manual export, that costs time to transfer from one ecosystem to another. This time cost needs to be calculated into when you are choosing your platform.

The cost of memory muscle

If you’ve been to any company, you’ve noticed that people absolutely hate the switch to the new operating systems, and updates to an existing software application, because it is pushing them out of their comfort zone, forcing them to learn new things. Common technology users barely learned to use what they are using now and putting on the additional expense in learning the new platform is highly inconvenient.

Even if the app is superior to the previous solution, the transition period from one to another is wicked expensive, as people are saying goodbye to their muscle memory and shortcuts they developed over the years using the old software. They can’t do things on auto-pilot anymore and are forced to relearn everything.

This is putting additional unnecessary stress on the employees.

From the early adopter perspective

I’ve been switching applications back and fourth since I am sitting on the computer. I was there on the forefronts of Chrome when Mozilla was a mainstream browser. I was using Netscape before Explorer even came out. If there was an operating system upgrade, I would click update without thinking twice (and usually pay the price right after).

App jumping has proven to be an extremely exciting adventure for me, which helped me to minimize app switching costs. But it came at a huge price. A lot of time spent on the things that are completely unrelated to my goals.

App advertisers are breaking their necks to make you their customer

And hence they are developing marketing strategies how to lock you in their proprietary or non-proprietary system, because lifetime value of a customer is growing, especially for the increased number of web services that charge a monthly subscription fee.


Next time you are on a verge of impulsively buying new software or transitioning your company to a new solution, you have to consider all the hidden costs lurking behind your decision. Sometimes it’s smart to willingly lock yourself into an ecosystem that you know you’ll be using for a long time.

Factors like trusting the development team to deliver timely updates and meet your demands as a customer are critical. Because sometimes these apps are making us so dependable, that it is simply crazy to neglect this factor.

Think twice before you jump to a new system, consider all the hidden costs.

Brian Djordjevic
About The Author

Brian Dordevic

Bojan is Marketing Strategic Planner with a passion for all things digital. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or schedule a consultation call with him.

2 responses to “Huge hidden costs of App switching

  1. It’s a dilemma, try new things that *might* make you more efficient or use what you have. I wonder if people with locked in syndrome have strong opinions on proprietary formats.

    1. You can get locked in, even if the format is not proprietary… There are inner justifications of the things you do, and you can always “rationalize” your perspective and make it truthful from your own perspective.

      This might inspire me to write a blog post on this topic. Thank you for inspiration.

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