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How I Got Pulled Into Apple’s Ecosystem & Why Soon It’ll Be Too Late To Get Out

The real magic in Apple’s products isn’t that they are great looking or that they come with great features, the real steal is in the fact that each one makes you want to buy the next one, across product lines. Just like iPods sold Macs back in the day, today iPhones sell iPads and vice-versa. Talking to a friend yesterday I realised that I have (un)knowingly become completely entrenched in Apple’s world. At the time of writing this I own a MacBook Pro, an iPad 2, an iPhone 4S and an Apple TV. This did not happen overnight and I am concerned.

The Move To A Mac

I switched from a Windows laptop (an HP tablet PC) to a Macbook in 2009 and very soon I grew to absolutely love it. Infact working on a Windows machine started turning into a not so pleasant idea. With this my perception of Apple as a brand changed. It went from being a company that had its set of fans that at times mindlessly raved about it, to one I actually started paying more and more attention to. This was of course after the introduction of the iPhone, and looking at the first few iterations I had decided that there was no way I was switching to one.

So for the next year or so, I happily used a Mac along with a Symbian/Maemo/Android device. Then the iPad came along. My first reaction to it was the exact same one that I had to the iPhone – too restricted, no multitasking and so on. However, iOS 4 came along and with it came multitasking. I took a long hard look at the iPad and decided that I wanted one, and what clinched it for me was the fact the that even if I needed to do a task necessary for a ‘power user’, then I’d have my smartphone which wasn’t shackled one bit.

With that I took a keen liking to the iPad, and slowly but surely its limitations became a less of an annoyance. The quality of apps and the general utility of the device was worth the sacrifice. Then the iPad 2 came along, so did Airplay and while picking up the iPad 2, I also got an Apple TV. Wirelessly showing off photos and videos did sound very cool, and 99$ wasn’t a huge deal. With iOS 5 Airplay really improved, more and more apps started taking advantage of it and wireless mirroring meant that if you could see it on the iPad, you could see it on the TV.

An iPad Sells An iPhone

By the end of 2011, I had been using Apple devices for 3 years, iOS for the better part of 2. Some things still bothered me, but I had become used to the Apple way of things. Yet, till this time I had never used an iPhone as a primary device. This is where’s Apple’s mastery at making one product sell another comes in. It was because I had been using an iPad, I was ready to switch to an iPhone. For all the limitations of iTunes, one thing that works great is wireless sync. Being able to put music, photos, video etc onto the iPhone or even back it up wirelessly is fantastic. The iPhone or iPad could be anywhere in the house and you’d still be able to act as if it is plugged into the computer.

Apple TV

Another huge draw was the fact that a ton of quality ‘paid for’ apps were already waiting for me. Spending money on the same apps on Android/Windows Phone/Symbian and then on iOS for the iPad didn’t make much sense, yes I could have the best of both worlds, but was that so necessary?

The fact that you can buy an app on the iPad and in more cases than not it’ll automatically be downloaded on your iPhone too, for free, makes a lot of psychological difference. E.g. I recently bought the iPhoto for iOS app on the iPad – it is 5$, but when you see it on the iPhone too its almost like you got 50% off, or got it in a buy 1 get 1 scheme. This definitely encourages you to buy more apps, the knowledge that two device will be benefitting from a single purchase lets you pull the trigger much easier. This means that slowly you’ll come to a point where you’ll have a substantial amount of money invested in that platform.
All my Apple devices talk to each other seamlessly. Everything is wireless and it involved no setting up whatsoever. Now the iPhone 4S isn’t the only phone I use, for the sake of keeping current I use the Galaxy S2 too and carry a Lumia 800 along most of the time for the freshness of Windows Phone. But if whenever I need to copy music and pictures, I need to get the USB cable out. I cannot seamlessly show photos on the TV and DLNA is still hit and miss for the common man. All of this pushes me into the Apple ecosystem more and more.

What can change this status-quo?

There isn’t a compelling reason to switch to an Android tablet, and Android in general is too fragmented to create such an ecosystem. Plus there is no Android on the PC. The only people who can pull this off are Nokia and Microsoft.

Windows 8

But there are a few fundamental things they need to do first. The vision is there – an Xbox instead of the Apple TV, Xbox live/Skydrive instead of iCloud, Windows 8 phones and tablets in sync, and a lovely Windows 8 powered laptop. But will they be able to make everything so seamless? Instead of keeping the phone and tablet in sync with each other, Microsoft has decided to keep the tablet and the PC in sync. Something Apple has avoided, Lion looks nothing like iOS on the iPad, yes some features are inspired by it, but that’s it.

What this means is that apps in all probability the apps that you buy once from the Windows Store on the PC should automatically become available on the Windows 8 tablet as well. But this will only happen if they are Metro (ARM compatible) apps. The usual x86 apps won’t work on ARM tablets and that’s where the seamless chain is broken, ergo less incentive for the users to put money down in your ecosystem. (Yes there will probably be X86 tablets also, but I don’t see Nokia doing one).

Next, very few apps will work across both the tablet and phone, and because the developer will have had to do some work to optimse for each; I doubt he’d be willing to offer an iOS like 2 for 1 deal.

Next we need an AirPlay equivalent, doesn’t matter if its DLNA based or ABCD based, it should have an easy to remember name and be bulletproof. Wireless syncing across all devices is a must, and I would go so far as to add WIFI direct capabilities as well. Make it extra seamless.

The problem is that time is really running out. The next wave of retina display powered MacBooks will really begin to impact the Windows laptop market. Macs are no longer the more expensive option, the iPad is the best value for money tablet around and the iPhone isn’t showing signs of a slowing down. All of this puts a lot of pressure on Windows 8. Nokia World 2012 happens end of September, so this means we’ll have not only the Windows 8 release for tablets and PC’s, but also Windows Phone 8 in Q4. If they don’t have an answer to this Borg like ecosystem that just keeps sucking you in, starting the end of this year, it won’t matter what they do in 2014.

The outlook is bright, there are a few niggles here and there, but the bigger picture isn’t bleak. Time to deliver.

Almost forgot – Nokia, if your Nokia World 2012 flagships don’t have an a retina like display for both the phone and possible tablet, don’t bother.