Gateway Products

By Mark Nuyens
6 min. read📱 Technology

When purchasing lower-priced gadgets, keep in mind that the low price could be explained by their long-term strategy, usually involving data tracking. This would imply that a cheap product is merely a gateway product.

I recently purchased a new TV from a brand I hadn't heard of before—TCL. The reviews were promising, and the price was notably competitive. But once I turned the TV on, I was asked to make a decision: use its traditional TV channels or dive into Google TV with its rich internet content. It almost felt like choosing between the red and the blue pill, and with two seemingly identical remote controls, who could blame me?

The TV essentially made me an offer I couldn't refuse: either go the old-fashioned way or immerse myself in convenient streaming and smart apps. Choosing the former almost seems accidental. A day later, suddenly, a wild notification appeared, not asking for my permission, but casually informing me that Google would be tracking me. It was almost like telling kids there's sugar in their popsicles when they're already enjoying them. By this time it was obvious to me how my new TV was merely a trojan horse, more specifically a strategic alliance with Google.

While technically they did offer me a choice, the reality was more of a nudge towards Google. My supposedly budget-friendly 43" TV, priced at only 299 euros, now seemed like a gateway product. It wasn't about reducing costs; it was a lure into being tracked and bombarded with ads (my Netflix subscription aside). Ideally, I would have preferred the ability to choose between Google TV and some alternative system, even if that meant having less features. This alternative system would allow similar yet diverse applications, beyond Google's selection and interference.

Let me be clear—I certainly don't expect the best of both worlds: a low-cost, high-quality TV, limitless software, and ad-free YouTube. I comprehend the need for these companies to generate revenue, with data as the new currency. What annoys me is the subtle manipulation into a decision without transparent information about the extent of Google's intrusion into my living room. The idea of being pushed into Google's ecosystem, somewhat unsettles me. Maybe it's just me and I need to grow up. Maybe this is simply the market at work. Or, just maybe, brands need to diversify their software and be more up front about their partnerships. Speaking as a web developer, I've learned there's usually more than one way of solving something.

This phenomena of gateway products mirrors the concept of gateway drugs, at least in principle. These cheap products serve as entry points into tech giants' ecosystems, in this case demanding a Google account and increasing engagement with their services. While Google does the same thing with its Android phones, Apple, with its iPhones, follows a similar strategy, probably caring more about post-sale engagement through its App Store than the initial device sale. And Meta, with its affordable VR headsets, is probably applying the same strategy, while targeting an even younger audience.

This article aims to shed light on these 'gateways', emphasizing that the seemingly innocent lower prices may actually be strategic investments, ensuring long-term gains through user engagement and data utilization. While some of you might consider my stance naive, I still think we should be aware about these practices—whether lock-ins, walled gardens, or gateways. At the very least, I hope that through this article, some will realize that products offered at lower prices are not gestures of goodwill but strategic moves for prolonged profitability. And with any form of drug addiction, awareness is the first step, right? 😉

Ideally, a neutral device that allows for customization through standardization, would offer a more balanced and transparent alternative to the current scenario where companies prioritize engagement and data over user freedom. I think it's important to remember that although some products may be more expensive, or kept their marketing budget to a minimum, they may in fact hold the key to democratizing our digital world, which may be worth more than its discount in the long run.