Editor’s Note: For most of us, the wide world of technology is a wormhole of dubious trends with a side of jargon soup. If it’s not a bombardment of startups and tech trends (minimum viable product, Big Data, billion dollar IPO!) then it’s unrelenting feature mongering (Smart Everything! Siri!). What’s a level-headed guy with a few bucks in his pocket supposed to do? We’ve got an answer, and it’s not a ⌘+Option+Esc. Welcome to Decrypted, a new weekly commentary about tech’s place in the real world. Writer Darren Murph, the former Managing Editor of Engadget and a Guinness World Record holder for number of blog posts published, will spend some weeks demystifying and others criticizing, but it’ll all be in plain english. So take off your headphones, settle in for something longer than 140 characters and prepare to wise up.
Chances are, those of you at work right now are reading this on either a Mac or a Windows-based machine. You may assume that your usage helps define a market share, when it fact, it defines an ecosystem war. And compared to the OS battle on desktops and laptops, the stakes on mobile are much, much higher. The masses rely on smartphones far more frequently than they do computers. In fact, one recent study from Locket, a lock screen application, found that of 150,000 users, the average person interacted with their phone 110 times per day.
Put another way: you are what’s in your pocket.
Taking this well beyond the present day, these major players also realize that we’re at the very beginning of a generational snowball. Early adopters who flocked to the iPhone in 2007 are largely still using the platform, and now that they’re having children, those youngsters are apt to get iPhones of their own once they’re old enough to understand the ins and outs of Snapchat, messaging, and taking notes with a virtual keyboard instead of a pencil.
I’m a believer that these black-and-white ecosystem options are actually good for us. Both Apple and Google enjoy fewer software quirks and more seamless experiences by leveraging a certain amount of control, and their users do indeed appreciate knowing that what’s built for either will work impeccably. But what it means for you, dear consumer, is that you should invest a serious amount of time researching which platform you want to marry. As phones mature to control more than our phone calls and daily appointment schedules, they’ll influence the accessories and peripherals that make our lives whole.
It’s no surprise that software built for an iPhone isn’t compatible with an Android-based phone, and neither of those platforms play nicely with BlackBerry, Windows Phone, or any of the other non-dominant operating systems. You may be wondering why that incompatibility is a big deal — after all, increased competition is unilaterally great for the consumer, right? But the truth is that your phone decision is likely to play a role in everything from your next vehicle to your next home.
Face it: You are what’s in your pocket.
What started as a bit of bickering between Apple (iPhone) and Google (Android) has led to an all-out battle for the minds of consumers. As both companies have learned, exceedingly few consumers ever switch platforms once they buy into one for any length of time. Chew on this: in 2012, Apple confirmed that the average iPhone user installs 80 apps from the App Store, and that figure is only swelling. Once you’ve installed, tweaked, and potentially paid for 80+ applications that work specifically on a single platform, are you really going to entertain the idea of buying an entirely different platform and downloading every single one of them again? Are you really going to buy the same app twice for two platforms? And are you really going to exert the effort required to see if all 80 of those apps are even available on a rival platform?
No, you aren’t.
Neither are your peers. According to research data collected between July 2012 and June 2013, a staggering 81 percent of iPhone users “purchased another iPhone during the 12-month period surveyed.” Even on Android, nearly 70 percent remained loyal when it came time to buy their next phone.
Once you’re entrenched, you aren’t getting out, which makes your initial decision carry far more weight than you probably realize.
Extending beyond the phone, mobile ecosystems are reaching their tentacles into places unimaginable just a decade ago. Starting this fall, iOS 8 will unveil a feature entitled HomeKit for iPhone. In short, this is Apple’s attempt to build a standard by which light bulbs, garage door openers, doorknobs, coffee makers, HVAC systems and more connect to. Buy an iPhone, control your home. Just don’t dare buy an appliance that isn’t HomeKit compatible, or else you may be stuck with a piece of intelligent equipment that’s only listening for commands from an Android phone. That kind of stubbornness could drive even a monk insane.
I offer that partly in jest, but the crux of it is in earnest. Both Apple and Google alike are offering automakers extensions of their mobile platforms so that you can use iPhone and Android phones natively in next-generation cars. If you’ve spent the last five years of your life getting cozy in an Android universe, are you really going to buy a car with a giant Apple on the infotainment screen? Like it or not, the label on your phone is going to sway your purchasing decisions.
Though the walled garden may incite fear, I’m optimistic about the future. In a way, you really can’t go wrong. These dedicated channels crafted by Google, BlackBerry, Apple, and Microsoft force developers to stay within tight bounds when producing new hardware and software to interact with your phone system of choice. To wit, competition to bring new smartphone users into their respective folds has made all of the major ecosystems robust. It’s not quite “to-may-to, to-mah-to”, but it’s close.