For many years I have lived in the Apple ecosystem. I own an iPhone 4. I own an iPad 2. But recently my fervor has ebbed. Case in point, I did not upgrade to the iPhone 4S instead sticking with my trusty iPhone 4 and I wasn’t on line when the new iPad debuted as I was when the iPad 2 launched last year. I even stuck with Google Sync in lieu of iCloud for e-mail and contacts. My interest in Windows Phone has been well documented.
In the midst of these thoughts, Apple provided me with an evaluation Apple TV and new iPad and for a few weeks I immersed in the Apple bubble again. Here is why the Apple ecosystem is so compelling:
- The new iPad screen is amazing. OK, this is not related to the ecosystem but bears mentioning. This is no surprise as it was the showstopper when the device was announced. As an iPhone 4 owner I often found myself using my phone instead of my iPad to surf the web. The new iPad has begun to change that dynamic and helps embed the value proposition of the iPad but I still find myself frequently using my phone. I did in fact expect the transition to be more dramatic. Regardless, it will be difficult going back to the iPad 2.
- There are many more universal apps. Last year developers were building some universal apps – those that provide a unique experience for the iPhone and the iPad - without the need to purchase or download two apps. But now universal apps are everywhere. The increase in universal apps is important because it makes owning an iPad more cost effective than buying apps for each device. To Apple’s benefit universal apps increase the value of the ecosystem while making it harder to leave. I have used a number of universal apps during my test and the interplay between iPhone and iPad is seamless and iCloud delivering my downloads to all my devices eliminates a cumbersome step. And did I mention how nice the apps look on the new screen?
- Apple TV shows the power of iCloud. I questioned the value of iCloud – specifically being able to stream the content I purchased from iTunes or match the music content I ripped (from my personal library of course). But I was being a bit myopic only thinking about how it would impact my iPhone or iPad use. But the use-case extends well beyond that as I learned over several long sleepless nights with a teething baby. Without the need for my computer to be on I was able to watch many programs that I had purchased over the years or download new ones. It all just appeared and within a few clicks I was watching Community and laughing just quietly enough to avoid rousing the baby. The additional benefit is being able to access the content on my computer as well providing me with a huge cache of digital files to enjoy –assuming I remember to wake my computer - because for some reason you seemingly cannot wake a Mac via LAN unless you are using Airport. Despite this, I can see how an easy to use Apple Television could excite users.
- Apple’s content creation apps are compelling. Apple has put the proverbial wood behind the arrow by making content creation apps that are not only easy to use on the iPad but are also universal as well. Notes, Pages, Garage Band, iMovie all let you create interesting content easily. These apps again demonstrate the power of iCloud and the ecosystem as I can easily access files on other devices or immediately listen to or watch them on TV via Airplay. I feel sorry for visitors who will now be so easily subjected to hours of home movies – beautiful and well scored home movies mind you – but still home movies they are forced to endure.
- Unique Apps are Apple’s forte. In fact, in the SA AppTRAX Insight: The New iPad is a look into Apple's Future we found that Android offered only a fraction of the titles available on iPad and a number of these apps did not offer unique tablet experiences. So, Apple has high quality, unique, beautiful apps. That’s a winning value proposition.
So, what does this all mean? Is Apple unstoppable? Am I back in the bubble for good?
In short, the answer is no. However an interesting change is happening at Apple. Instead of new products that individually revolutionize a category each year the company is building devices that complement each other more effectively. iCloud is a huge improvement over MobileMe and really serves as the foundation of the ecosystem in a way I didn’t expect. The new iPad while not wildly different from the iPad 2 does offer a sea change in usability due to the much improved screen. The Apple TV is compelling for those with large libraries or those wanting an easy way to get self-created content on the TV for viewing. In time perhaps the Mac will be engulfed into this ecosystem as well further extending the halo effect that iOS has had on many products. And let’s not forget that rumored Apple Television we hear so much about.
So, Apple is no longer truly competing with one device as the iPod did with Zune (if you think the Zune ever really competed with the iPad) or a one device operating system. It has already extended beyond that and for me – as I begin to consider my next phone – it is difficult to opt out of such a robust and fully formed ecosystem. I, like many others am doubly conflicted after investing so much in apps over the last 3 years. It will be interesting to see how/if Microsoft can use Xbox, Windows Phone, Tablets, and PCs to position Windows 8 as an equally compelling alternative ecosystem because the metro UI is so different from iOS. And Microsoft has the assets to quickly create a holistic ecosystem. As Google begins to improve tablet apps and combine user data more effectively they too might create a compelling ecosystem. But even if wildly successful it will take time to match the robustness of Apple’s ecosystem and all the while iOS will continue to evolve. And while others are playing catch-up Apple keeps moving forward.