Gadget Ecosystem Review

Over the past few years, I’ve been watching the evolution of gadget ecosystems emerging in a race to attract customers.  These ecosystems consist of gadgets designed to work together to bring the user a unified computing experience. Today, there are 4 main players – Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.

Review

This is my quick, down and dirty review.  It looks at desktop/laptop options, tablet options, smartphone options, smartwatch options, streaming media devices, cloud storage, compatibility with other ecosystems, marketplace, and price.

There are two main features that these companies have in common.  Each sells multiple types of devices that sync/connect through software created by that company.  Second, each hosts a centralized marketplace selling apps, music, video, and ebooks. No one ecosystem stands out better than the others, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Vendor Desktop/laptop Tablet SmartPhone Smartwatch Streaming Media Cloud Marketplace Price
Apple  iMac, Macbook Air  iPad, iPad mini  iPhone  coming soon  AppleTV  iCloud  iTunes high
Microsoft Many  Surface 3 and Other vendors  Several  Band  xBox  OneDrive  Microsoft store mid
Google Chromebook  Several  Many  Several  Chromecast Stick and other vendors  GoogleDrive  Google play mid-low
Amazon  None  Kindle Fire  Fire Phone  None  Amazon Fire TV  Amazon Cloud Drive  Amazon low

Apple – The Design Company

My wife has been a happy consumer of Apple products, owning an iPhone, iPad, iPod, and AppleTV.  Apple is known for its excellent design and slick user interface, cultivating an intense fan base, and charging a premium in the process.  It also contains a great app marketplace and mediocre software offerings.  Their music, video, and book offerings are also good.  And while Apple creates software that works well with their own devices, that software is not usually great.

Strengths – integrated ecosystem, great marketplace, eloquent design, tight device-software compatibility

Weaknesses – expensive, weak on some software offerings (like cloud storage), AppleTV is weak on apps, desktop/laptop software cannot be used on tablet/smartphone/TV, except for iTunes isn’t compatible with other ecosystems

Microsoft – Productivity and Gaming

Under Gates and Balmer, Microsoft developed an excellence in productivity and gaming, two my passions.  That’s why I own and use a number of Microsoft products including the laptop I’m working on right now and a Windows Phone.  Not to mention the xBox 360.  Under their new CEO Nadella, Microsoft has sifted its emphasis to greater compatibility between the ecosystems. With Microsoft’s OS changes, software and apps may be better able to traverse the ecosystem of devices, filling one of their major weaknesses.  Their phones are good, but just lack apps.

Strengths – integrated ecosystem, strong productivity emphasis, Lots of free storage, strong gaming platform, renewed emphasis on playing well with others

Weaknesses – poor app marketplace (making the phone and tablet difficult sells), no ebook marketplace, changing or confusing naming conventions,

Google – Engineering Excellence

Back in 2009, I attempted to use all of Google’s software options and did so pretty successfully for a number of years, including an android phone.  They have some cloud solutions.  At the time, I moved away from them because of lack of integration between options.  They have made big strides in closing that lack of integration, but still have lots of room for improvement. Google has also manged to license their android OS to lots of devices manufacturers, leading to a multitude of smartphone, smartwatch, smartTV, and tablets options.

Strengths – Lots of options, technical excellence for individual products, great app marketplace

Weaknesses – not as well-integrated, Chromebook does not have much software

Amazon – Entertainment Consumption

Amazon is working a different angle in the ecosystem genera.  They are not interested in developing desktops or smartwatches.  Their primary interest is to develop devices and software for consuming content, preferably Amazon purchased content.  This they accomplish very well and at very low-cost.  As an Amazon Prime member, I found great synergies with purchasing Kindle Fire tablets for my kids.  I’m even tempted to purchase the Amazon Fire TV.

Strengths – great for consuming entertainment, integrates well across devices and with Amazon prime, low prices

Weaknesses – no desktop options (although it does have software for the desktop) or smartwatch, smartphone option not that good

Best of Breed

Of course, you may not want to commit to just one technology ecosystem, but rather adopt the best of the best.  And certainly there are ways to do this and do it well.  But the work to research, setup, and maintain such a setup requires a significant effort.  Because Apple tends to be more closed across the board, it is harder to blend with the other ecosystems.  Amazon has descent software solutions, but lacks the variety in devices.  Google was built from the ground up to be more open and lends itself well to playing within other ecosystems.  Microsoft, with their recent change in direction, is becoming more so as well.

Ecosystem Wrap-up

Because the integration across devices is so young, the industry has not matured around standards or common methods of communicating (other than Internet technology).   What will work best for you will largely vary, but the industry will likely see lots of innovation around trying to capture and keep users within the very lucrative ecosystem market.  It will likely include more wearable technology, easier integration, better standards, more cloud services, and richer user experience.  Hopefully, we’ll all enjoy the outcomes.

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