Why you should be paying attention to digital real estate encroachment

In the world of business, there are countless comparisons made between time and money. I’m not just talking about performing break-even analysis or using other time-related business functions, but rather the way that people talk about time and money. There are so many similarities between time and money that many of the verbs used when talking about one work just as well when talking about the other. For example, both time and money can be saved, spent, and invested, just to name a few.

Another similarity between time and money is that most people only get the leftovers. In the case of money, for example, taxes are generally taken before you even get your paycheck. Most people also have financial commitments that must be paid up front. This might include anything from the mortgage payment to the bill for the kid’s braces. If there is anything left at the end of the month after meeting all of your financial obligations, then that is what you get to keep.

The same basic concept also applies to time. We all have things that we have to do, even if we would much rather be doing something else. This might include going to work each day, shopping for groceries, or helping the kids with homework. If there is any time left over at the end of the day, then that can be “me time.”

I have often said that it is important to have a plan for your money, because if you don’t have a plan for it, then someone else does (the same also holds true of time). The older I get, the more I realize just how true this statement really is. What I have only more recently come to realize, however, is that the same basic concept is beginning to apply to another commodity — digital real estate.

What is digital real estate?

digital real estate

Before I delve into a discussion of digital real estate encroachment, I think that it’s important that I take just a second to explain what I mean by digital real estate. The term digital real estate gets thrown around a lot, and can mean anything from space on your Windows desktop to a website (or web property as it is sometimes called). For the purposes of this article, however, I am going to talk about digital real estate at the device level. This might be a PC, a smartphone, or another device of your choosing. So in this regard, think of digital real estate as being the capacity that is available for your use on a particular device.

Digital real estate encroachment

Digital real estate encroachment has been going on for a long time but has been gaining a lot of momentum lately. The practice had relatively humble, albeit annoying, beginnings. We have all seen, for example, the print driver that installs a separate process that constantly nags you to buy ink. Another example might be a shady scanning tool that constantly tries to upsell you on other security products.

These are both examples of a vendor bundling what I like to call nagware with software that the vendor knows that you need. In my mind, this practice qualifies as a form of digital real estate encroachment because it consumes resources such as memory, CPU cycles, and hard disk space, beyond what would be required if the vendor lets you install the software that you need without all of the extras. Even so, this is a relatively mild form of digital real estate encroachment.

A few paragraphs back, I said that if you don’t have plans for your money then there will always be someone else who does. I also said because so many other people do have plans for your time and money, most people only get whatever time or money happens to be left over once their obligations have been met. As strange as it sounds, the same trend is starting to take hold with digital real estate — especially on smartphones. It is possible to load up a device with so many “required” apps that there is little capacity remaining for the apps that you actually want to run.

This, of course, raises the question of what qualifies as a required app. If we are talking about a personal device that is being used for work, then there may be security or provisioning apps installed, and some of the device’s capacity is probably also being consumed by corporate email.

Retail hell

When it comes to personal device usage, one of the biggest offenders is retail apps. Practically every retail store has its own app, as do nearly all of the chain restaurants. While it is true that there is no law that says that you have to install retail or restaurant apps, some retailers punish customers who refuse to install their app.

Many years ago, grocery stores began offering shoppers a so-called discount card. In most cases, advertised sale prices are only honored if the customer presents their discount card at checkout. Otherwise, the customer is forced to pay full price (which is sometimes artificially inflated, enabling the retailer to offer cardholders the “discount” price). Many grocery chains are also offering apps in addition to the discount card. Although this practice seems to have started with grocery stores, other retailers such as some pharmacies and pet stores began adopting the process, because apps make it easier to engage customers and to track purchasing habits.

Rather than handing out plastic cards, retailers are increasingly tying such practices to apps. The only way for customers to get discounts, earn reward points, or whatever is to use the retailer’s app. For retailers, this practice is a dream come true. Apps are relatively inexpensive to build but can be marketed to customers and track their buying habits in ways that were impossible not that long ago.

The problem with this practice is that those people who are on a budget may feel compelled to install apps for all of the places where they shop. The end result can be a smartphone that is so cluttered with retail apps that the device’s capacity for other, more useful apps is seriously diminished.

It isn’t just retailers that are strong-arming customers into downloading apps. Product manufacturers are increasingly asking customers to download an app to go along with various products. I was recently in a hardware store and saw an advertisement in which a manufacturer of HVAC filters wanted customers to download an app to remind them when it was time to change filters. Similarly, I recently ordered some 360-degree cameras that do not have a built-in viewfinder. The manufacturer expects customers to use a smartphone app as a remote viewer, and to adjust camera settings.

Car manufacturers too?

digital real estate

The automotive industry is also big on apps. Most vehicle manufacturers offer an app that allows customers to unlock the vehicle, start the vehicle by remote, or schedule maintenance. In some cases, however, vehicle apps are almost a necessity. At least one car manufacturer has stopped offering in-dash navigation in some of its vehicles and is instead requiring customers to run a smartphone app that transmits GPS data from the driver’s phone to the car’s in-dash infotainment system.

Apps are great … but

I am not at all opposed to the use of apps. Apps are great. Smartphones wouldn’t be able to do very much if it weren’t for apps. Even so, marketers realize that nearly everyone has a smartphone and they are increasingly trying to force themselves onto your smartphone by making it difficult for you to avoid installing their app. The practice is so widespread that it’s possible to accumulate dozens of retail and restaurant apps, all of which consume valuable storage space on your device.

If you find that apps are taking over your phone, then I recommend periodically purging those apps that you don’t really need. Another option is to get a second phone (even if you never activate it, and only use WiFi) solely for the purpose of storing all of those apps that you have to have and save your primary phone for the apps that you actually want to install.

Featured image: Pixabay

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