Apple’s Greatest Advantage: The Apple Ecosystem

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Google’s power in the mobile computing world seems to grow with every new product announcement and Android device that comes to market. But for all its reach, the search giant is missing one piece of the puzzle that Apple does better than anyone else: product integration.

It starts with one device. Maybe it’s an iPod; maybe it’s a first Mac; but from that first product, you discover Apple’s unique take on technology. Apple treats each device it manufactures with care, sweating the little details like font choices and icon design, and thinking about how it all fits together. Each device Apple creates plays a part in the overall ecosystem, and the links between them are clear.

I recently stepped outside the cozy Apple ecosystem and purchased an Android phone, the HTC Desire. It was on sale at a steep discount, and I thought I would be able to integrate it into my work/life flow. I was wrong, and the phone is being returned.

The phone was powerful, and had some very interesting features, but it was so entirely different from the rest of my Mac setup that nothing felt right. I could go into detail about application crashes, frustrating hardware, the sordid Android Market (I wouldn’t let my kids browse through it), and other annoyances, but suffice to say that it simply didn’t measure up to the expectations I’ve developed from using Apple devices.

Apple is the only computer company that creates all of its own hardware and software; they control the entire package. Personal computers are a mishmash of parts and pieces from different sources. Hardware from one company, software from another. By contrast, many modern smartphone and computer makers get hardware from one place, and an operating system from another. BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion is a notable exception to this rule, but a recent interview with their co-CEO Mike Lazaridis seems to suggest the company’s leadership at least has little sense of what smartphone consumers really want.

HP, which recently purchased Palm, is another exception to the rule. The stage is set for the computing giant to build its own tightly integrated smartphone environment, if they have any interest in doing so. HP now sells the Palm Pre, but unfortunately, the Pre, once seen to be a strong iPhone competitor, seems to be lagging behind. Not a single one of these companies can design and test integration between phones, tablets, computers, and online services as well as Apple can, because none controls each of these aspects the way Apple does.

Does Apple’s degree of control occasionally border on the excessive? Yes. But consumers end up benefitting from that control more often than they are harmed. It’s only because Apple controls the entire product line that you can rent Inception in iTunes on your Mac, and know that it will play on your iPad, your iPhone, and your Apple TV. It works reliably, consistently and predictably.

When you live in the Apple ecosystem, you make a deal with Apple: I’ll pay you, and in exchange, you make sure everything plays nicely together. Google doesn’t seem to be interested in providing that kind of tightly integrated experience, at least not yet.  What Apple does best is remember that technology only exists to serve its users, and goes far beyond a list of features and hardware specs. And that’s why Apple will continue to drive the future of computing, regardless of whether Google and others end up winning the numbers game.

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