The Ecosystem Problem

I work on a Macbook Pro. My desktop and laptop at home are Windows 7 machines. My phone is a Droid Razr. Also, I buy ebooks on my Nook, but tend to prefer the Kindle app on my phone. I’m straddling five ecosystems, and by the looks of things, that won’t be an option too much longer.

Stuck in a Content Silo

I love gadgets, but I’m not sure I actually love buying them. The decision on what piece of tech to buy gets harder the longer I try to stay outside of a content silo. What’s a content silo? They’re the towers companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are building around their proprietary products. They invite you in with cool tech, then lock the door and erect a silo made out of apps and exclusive features around you. They want you entrenched. They want you to see that new tech from another company and choose to stay because you’ve already sunk so much time and money in their silo.

Now I don’t think content silos are terrible things. Fully investing in one can lead to some cool synergy between gadgets. I know people that own an iPhone, iPad, Macbook and Apple TV. They buy universal apps that work and sync across devices, view movies and pictures through AirPlay on the Apple TV, and connect with other people using the same devices. That’s really cool.

But I can’t do it. I think for me it might be the fear of picking the wrong one. I got a Genesis as a kid, then ended up wishing I got a Super Nintendo. I went from a Playstation to a Dreamcast, and missed out on the fun of the Playstation 2 (I eventually got around to owning one of those). I don’t want to jump into an ecosystem, sink a bunch of money into hardware and apps, and then be stuck.

How They Stack Up

My desktop and laptop at home will need to be upgraded in the next year. I’m also on the lookout for a tablet. This is a good point to jump all the way in to an ecosystem. Or I could ride the fence a bit longer.

Apple

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What I love:
After four years away from Macs, I forgot just how excellent these things are. The unbelievable responsiveness of the trackpad, the crisp screen, the keys that have just the right amount of throw—love the hardware. As for OSX, switching between it and Windows 7 isn’t hard, so that’s a non-issue. Especially if you get something like Hyperdock, which brings some much-needed Windows features to OSX.

What I miss if I don’t go all in:
The app store. Apple’s store gets everything before Android. They also get a ton of exclusive apps.

Accessories. The best part about Apple products being so popular is their popularity. The number of accessories made for my Droid Razr can fit on one tiny shelf. The number of accessories for the iPhone and iPad? Ridiculous. Cases, clips, lenses, cameras, add-ons, car docks, everything you can imagine. Having those options is really nice.

Windows

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What I love:
I remember when I switched to Windows 7 from Vista—it was the first time I didn’t feel like I was missing out by not being on a Mac anymore. It’s a good OS. The biggest perk for me here is PC gaming. I don’t have a top-of-the-line PC, but I can play most new games at Xbox-worthy settings. Also, contrary to most creatives, I kind of prefer the Adobe programs on PC. It’s been quite a few years since I used them on Mac, so maybe things have changed, but I didn’t like all the floating windows in those versions. I’m not super crazy about the Windows 8 changes coming soon, so I could switch my home computers to macs when they’re ready to be upgraded, but only if Apple upgrades the iMac to be decent at gaming.

What I miss if I don’t go all in:
Windows synergy. I really like the look of Windows 8 and the Modern UI, but at this point, I don’t see myself switching to a Windows phone or tablet. There just aren’t enough apps. And the synergy they offer with the current Xbox isn’t anything I’m interested in. I use my Xbox to play games, that’s it.

Android

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What I love:
I initially went with an Android phone because the iPhone wasn’t on Verizon. Back when I had a Droid Eris, Android was really rough around the edges. It’s shaped up a lot since then. I love the modern, futuristic design Google is slowly integrating into all their apps. Apple is stuck in that early 2000s skeuomorphic look—making digital things look like real things—which is why their overall design is inconsistent and dated. I like that Google wants things to look digital. I don’t need my calendar to look like a real calendar. I like that roboty, future-tech sparseness.

I also love my Google apps. Gmail is my mail client of choice. I use Drive to store documents (along with Dropbox), and Maps & Navigation are hands down the best GPS/direction service I’ve ever used—they beat the socks off my old Garmin.

What I miss if I don’t go all in:
Google Apps. It’s nice that Google apps can be used anywhere, but they’re really best on an Android device. Now that Apple has ditched Google Maps in iOS, Android devices might be the only place to get them in the future.

Customization. This is my current Droid Razr homescreen. I love how much I can tinker with that stuff in Android. You can still customize an iPhone, but you have to jump through a lot of hoops to do it.

Amazon

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What I love:
I’m a Prime member, and I get my money’s worth. Not only do I buy most of my Christmas and birthday gifts from Amazon, I also subscribe to a number of mundane items. Stuff like deodorant, razors and toothbrushes. Just set it and forget. Right when I run out of razors, a new box is at my door. I also love the Kindle app on my phone, and the syncing tech is far better than what Barnes & Noble offers. Their new Kindle Fire HD tablets just barely edge out Google’s Nexus 7 on tech specs, but they’ve slapped their own clunky skin on top of Android. Not a fan of that.

What I miss if I don’t go all in:
I can get most of the Amazon features on other tablets and phones. Prime Instant Streaming, Kindle and the Amazon store are all available on multiple devices. The Kindle Fire HD has cool audiobook and ebook syncing and an awesome parental control mode (that I might find useful when my son gets older). But one person on Gizmodo left a good comment that gave me pause about Amazon’s hardware:

“They talked a lot about Kindle as a service. I wonder if they’ll just ride out this hardware as long as it makes financial sense, and then after that offer a Kindle App Package to install on whatever device you want. “

That’s a good point. I’ll continue buying all kinds of products from Amazon, but I think I can pass on their official tablet.

So that’s the highs and lows as I see it. Are you currently entrenched in an ecosystem? Or are you a fence rider like me?