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9 smart and useful features of Apple’s iPhone ecosystem that make it hard to switch

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When shopping for a new smartphone, looking just at the features of one specific model compared to another, or even the capabilities of one release of Android to that of iOS doesn’t show the full picture. While the online reviews may indicate that the Samsung Galaxy S 4 has better hardware components than the iPhone, or that notifications in the recently released Jelly Bean version of Android are better than iOS, that does not necessarily make all Android phones better than all iPhones.

Apple cares about more than just creating a consistent and unique experience for each of their devices individually. In my opinion, Apple has created a more complete and user-friendly ecosystem that encompasses much more than the features or abilities of a single phone. If your total investment in Apple is just a single iPhone, then switching between iOS and Android with each upgrade opportunity is not just possible; it is likely very probable.

However, if you have taken full advantage of everything Apple has to offer iPhone users, then switching platforms may be harder than you think. For many iPhone owners, the question is more than just upgrading a phone to the next great thing. It is also about how much one has totally invested in Apple as a whole. Here’s a list of several aspects of Apple’s complete ecosystem that I think makes the iPhone experience much better than it could possible be on its own.

Apple Ecosystem

Shared Photo Streams for iCloud members only

While your own personal Photo Stream may be a convenience when it comes to accessing your photos from multiple devices, sharing your best moments with other iCloud members is certainly more rewarding. Liking and commenting on each other’s photo stream is an experience not unlike other photo sharing services. The problem is that you cannot access any of these shared Photo Streams from outside Apple’s ecosystem. So switching means that you will have to leave your shared memories behind and convince your friends and family to share their precious life moments with you elsewhere.

iMessage and FaceTime friends and family

iMessage is Apple’s messaging system that in many instances — at least when its working — can be used as a replacement to SMS messaging provided by cellular carriers. Like iMessage, FaceTime is the video extension that enables one to call someone they know and see them live and in person. Both products certainly have their competition online, but convincing your family and friends that you communicate with regularly to switch services may pose more of a challenge. Not everyone has accounts with multiple competing services.

GameCenter Friends, Saved Game Data and Top Scores

If you are a gamer, you may have quite a bit more invested in GameCenter than you think. If your an avid iOS gamer, all of your online friends that you challenge and play multiplayer games with are all GameCenter members. Your top scores, achievements, rankings and more are all in GameCenter as well. This includes the investment you made in purchasing the games as well as the ability to use your iCloud backup and restore your data to a new device. Yes, there use to be alternatives like OpenFeint, and more recently Google Play Games has added similar features, but you will need to start over with new friends and establish yourself once again on the leader boards.

Apple Ecosystem

iTunes Mix and Match media libraries

It use to be that digital-rights management (DRM) locked all of your music to one service, iTunes and your iPod. This has changed in recent years and your music library is more portable than ever. Moving your entire music library from one service to another can be a bit of a challenge, but you can do it. However, unlike some of the other multiplatform music storage services like those from Google or Amazon, your iTunes Match music library can only be accessed from your iOS device, not Android. And even though your music library may be liberated from DRM, the rest of your iTunes purchases are not. From movies to television series and even the books you purchased from iBooks, they are all part of your Apple ecosystem. This is why you must use your iTunes account authorize all of your devices.  There is no legitimate way from Apple to transfer your media collection to another platform.

AppleTV, AirPlay and AirPrint enabled devices

From speakers to amplifiers, Airport Express and of course Apple TV, streaming your music, videos, and even your screen is certainly easier when you have an AirPlay capable device to stream it to. Even printer manufactures have been supporting Apple’s AirPrint interface for a while now. And that makes printing from your iOS device simple and easy. And if you happen to have multiple iOS devices in your house, switching just one device over can make supporting all of these peripherals problematic to say the least.

iCloud synced data and backups

It’s not just Apple’s iWork apps — Pages, Numbers and Keynote — that can sync documents from your iPhone and iPad to your Mac. There are quite a few apps that cross over from the iOS app store to the Mac app store. Some of my favorites include mSecure, iDraw, ByWord, OmniGraffle, PDFPen and MindNode to name a few. Sure, you can set up a Dropbox account and sync a folder of documents, but that takes time to set up, and does not take advantage of OS X’s Power Nap feature. Power Nap is a power saving feature where your Mac will continue to sync with iCloud, even when it is asleep.

Apple Ecosystem

Charging cables at work, home and in the car

Then there are the cables. So many cables. Travel cables, bedside cables, work cables and car cables. After you have lived in Apple’s world for a while, you start seeing more and more charging cables appearing everywhere you live. First it was 30-pin cables and now it is Lightning cables (and even MagSafe for Macs). All such cables are exclusively Apple. Not to mention “Made for iPod” compliant docking stations that you may have at your bedside in the form of an alarm clock or a speaker stand in the living room.  There is no “Made for Android” equivalent.

AppleCare+ protection plans

Cellular carriers are looking for ways to shorten the amount of time that you are ‘stuck’ with an outdated phone. Apple on the other hand has looked for ways to get customers used to updating every other release with their version of the “tick tock” strategy. Add to this the extended AppleCare+ plan and you have a solid two years that you will want to keep your iPhone close to you. And AppleCare does not end with your iPhone, you can track and manage all of your Apple devices that are protected under AppleCare., a convenient way to manage all of your Apple devices.

All those iOS exclusive apps

Lets not forget ones investment in apps. For paid apps this works both ways. For Android owners, having an investment in paid apps that you use each and every day would be the same deterrent for switching platforms as an iOS owner. There are however a number of apps that are exclusive to the iOS platform. And if it just so happens that one such app is an app that you use every day, then switching may not be an option you are willing to entertain.

After reading this, you can look back and see it in one of two different ways. Either you see it as a trap, locking you in to a life of limited choices, or you see it as Apple having thought of everything.

And no matter which way you see it, both viewpoints will admit that Apple makes taking advantage of each and every one of these features as simple and easy as possible from the very first the moment you take your new device out of the box. Some will say that is by design to lock you in, while others will counter that it is all about making the customer experience great. If you are one who has taken full advantage of all Apple has to offer, you’ll find it hard to switch away, and you might not care.

62 Responses to “9 smart and useful features of Apple’s iPhone ecosystem that make it hard to switch”

  1. Peter H Pottinger

    imessages is the one and only point of this article being worth a damn and even at that it could easily be cross platform but apple sucks for their walled garden approach, we use it because we have to not because its the best. and if its not the best something better will come along to replace it, its tech 101 boys and girls, stay in school

  2. I switched to an Android phone after four generations of iPhones. It took about two days. There are two holes that I have found, one is complete phone backup, which is much easier on the iPhone, the other is integration with iTunes. On the other hand, there are a lot of features of the Android phone I prefer over the iPhone, it’s much easier to use. I am unlikely to go back.

    • Just curious, but how many of the afore mentioned features of Apple’s ecosystem has you actually invested in? If you did not take full advantage of all that Apple has to offer, I can see how trying out a different brand of phone would be appealing. Especially if the only part of the Apple experience you tried was just one iPhone.

    • Freerange

      Android easier to use? ROFLOL – try putting an Android phone in front of a three year old, and then an iPhone and then let’s see how much easier it is to use! The reality is that the vast majority of accelerated sales of Android phones is going on at the bottom of the market with cheap devices using an old version of the Android OS – they are replacing feature phonesq, with a significant number being used as feature phones, not smartphones. Just look at the vastly significant market share for iOS devices for web usage and mobile ad delivery.

      • What’s it matter which is easier to use? Both are easy to use. That’s a non-issue.

        And what’s it matter that some Android devices are cheap and don’t have the latest features and software? It’s called the consumer having a choice–something Apple has never understood. I wonder if Apple will give consumers the choice of IR and NFC when they announce their next product later this month? Or the choice of a removable battery?

        • I’m going to state that last post differently? I wonder if Apple will give consumers the choice of having top end hardware this time? Last time it was no NFC. The time before that no LTE.

  3. Ted Colbert

    One other point… I use google apps and gmail and maps …all the google stuff from my iOS device. Plus, I use the best 3rd party apps and many great apple apps as well. You see, since its also a great platform for my google tools plus the apple tools plus 3rd party, it’s the best platform for me.

    Looking forward to iTunes festival this September as well. 30 days of fantastic live concerts! One great exclusive feature right there that could be mentioned!

  4. Ted Colbert

    Missing from the list… Customer support and or phone replacement at an Apple store. This alone has been worth its weight in gold for me. I’ve had to deal with carrier stores with other phones and its enough to drive one over the edge. This is a HUGE difference…a wide moat around apple here. Service and support do matter to real people.

    • I was thinking more in terms of financial investment in Apple’s ecosystem rather than emotional investment. While it is true that good customer service will help retain customers, other than the cost of the AppleCare+ contract, which I did mention, not much else has actually been invested. But I do see your point, a really good experience with customer service could prevent someone from switching.

  5. peterdeep

    Sorry, Mr. Goetz, I don’t think you thought this article out very well.

    1. Customer Service/tech support. Do you need customer service or tech support? Try getting that from Google. Sorry, just a joke, because you’d never ever ever get a response from Google. Try getting tech support from Samsung. HAHAHAHAHA oh sorry I could not stop laughing with that one.

    2. iMessages is convenient than all the Skype/Whatsapp programs because it’s native, #1. You don’t have to be concerned with whether or not the recipient has an iPhone, because the message is free if they do without your having to coax them to install a separate app, and to keep it open sucking up memory and battery. The real beauty is for those people, like myself, who communicate with people all over the world. iMessage is free and it doesn’t matter where in the world you are or where the recipient is.

    3. Accessories. iOS has hundreds, if not thousands. Can’t say that for Android, and Windows definitely does not.

    • peterdeep

      iMessages show up on the computer, the iPhone and the iPad. I often text with people right from my computer. It’s a lot more convenient than picking up my phone to respond to someone in a text. If I’m using my iPad the text shows up there, and I can respond right from there as well. Can’t do that with Android. Or Windows. iMessages rock.

    • You generally get support from your carrier, but you might have hit on another key difference between Apple and Android users. Android users are more technically savvy. We wouldn’t even think of calling tech support. In contrast, recently I saw an iPhone user who was totally lost on Android. They installed a new launcher because they couldn’t figure out how to remove a pre-installed widget on their new S4. They thought that widget was just a permanent fixture on the phone! They couldn’t understand the customization that Android offers.

  6. Gustavo Domínguez

    Great read.

    Just last night I accidentally completely destroyed an Apple TV and now I thinking about buying a WD TV Live but in just two days I realised how much I use AirPlay. Sure WD’s media player will be actually able to play MKVs stored in my NASes but the lack of AirPlay will force my to buy both media players.

    My Apple TV was jailbroken so it could play MKVs, but newer generations cannot be jailbroken—or so I believe.

    Also, I tried to switch, well, not switch but use in tandem another phone so I got a Nexus 4, a great phone but it’s a hassle to do anything, for starters, I have no music in it because I have to manually sync it, I cannot just use iTunes Match to have my music in it. I could just buy the music again but it’s not on any store, they’re DJ sets that you cannot buy you have to network in order to get them. I can pretty much most of the things I do on my iPhone but I need third party services to do it; you cannot just enter your iCloud details and be done.

    Syncing contacts was the hardest part, I don’t want to use Google services to do it as it is the only non-Apple device I own, syncing one way is easy, and it’s pretty much the only tutorial you’ll find online, but I needed to keep in sync, so I found this great app on the Mac App Store called “Contacts Sync For Google Gmail” that does the work for you, the only drawback is that you need to keep it running somewhere, fortunately I run a OS X Server machine so it’s no biggie. I hope this helps for those looking to do the same.

  7. As much as you are an iPhone and iOS fan, I am not so. I much prefer Windows Phone over iOS and Android. I’ve used all. So full disclosure aside here are a few points I’d like to share.
    1. IOS is b.o.r.i.n.g. We spend so much time using ours phones I require a bit more excitement than iOS can offer.
    2. Admittedly, you are much more versed in iOS and the iPhone than I am but the reasons you state are more about the difficulty switching than that advantages staying.
    3. Most of the ‘exclusive’ Apple features you list (photo sharing, autobackup, chat and messaging) are easily replicated, and maybe better, with WP and Android apps. Skype, What Sapp, Drive, SkyDrive. With SkyDrive I can share photos with anyone very simply.
    4. No one cares about Apple TV, at least for the foreseeable future, and iCloud is a mess.

    I’m not an Apple or iPhone hater. Apple makes exquisite products. I just think that the time of the Cult of the iPhone is over, having been equalled, and bettered by Microsoft, Nokia, Google and others.

    Lets see what the next couple years holds.

  8. My wife and I both have iPhone 5’s and the latest iPads, but we use them mostly with non-apple services. Our CD collection can be streamed from Google Play on any of our devices. We tried iTunes home sharing, found it to be unreliable, and decided to try Google’s matching service for music since iTunes Match is a pay service. Google’s service has been easy, intuitive, and reliable once we found good iOS apps for it.
    Photostream does make sharing easy, but it’s too limited. We sync our iOS photos with Dropbox, and ultimately catalog them on the desktop computer using Lightroom (sharing them with non-Apple users through Smugmug and Facebook). We both use Gmail, use the Gmail app, and share Google calendars. I guess we use iCloud for syncing some apps (dropbox as well), backups and for finding our phones. Why don’t we just switch to Android devices? We thought about switching our phones, but prefer the smaller size compared to say an S4. We both love the iPad, and in general find iOS to be a joy to use.

  9. Of those things, only Airprint sounds interesting or must have. Much of the rest is available in some form on Android, or better on Android (e.g. no unduly expensive power cords).

    What I find interesting in these Apple/Android comparisons is maps. Apple users were really upset with Apples new maps, and seemingly rejoiced when Google Maps for iOS became available. When Google “upgraded” Maps for Android to be similar to the iOS product, Android users rebelled. What Apple users considered great, Android users recognized as a huge step backwards. I’d hate to think how bad the Apple product was.

  10. champs794

    This article was written to provoke, so I’ll nibble on the bait. There’s an Android phone in my mix of Apple computers, tablets, and TV products, so I’ve made different decisions.

    G+ also lets me control access to my photos.

    Skype is popular and covers all my iMessage and FaceTime use cases.

    Cloud storage for my settings? Yeah, I have Chrome et al set up like this. Other apps can sync with Dropbox.

    I won’t use the lock-in of iTunes DRM/account linking.

    It was great when 30 pin and MagSafe were dominant, but now they’ve been deprecated, and I am not keen on starting the process of new cables and adapters all over again.

    If an iOS-exclusive app is any good, it will be on Android before too long. It’s probably worth the wait.

    • I defiantly hear you on the switch to a new MagSafe2 and Lightning connectors. That is most certainly an opening for iPhone 4 and 4S owners to switch to a Samsung device when their contract is up for renewal. The “moat” is very shallow on this topic. If Apple was smart, they would run a campaign to switch out all of your 30-pin cables for Lightning cables at $10 each. Similar to the program they have now for third-party chargers.

    • peterdeep

      iTunes does not DRM music, and you’ll find that all other things like movies and TV shows are as DRM’d as you’d wanna get from Google and Amazon and everyone else. Your complaint is a non-issue.

      You’re missing a world of podcasts and iTunes U content because you’re all anti-Apple. Too bad for you.

  11. “There is no ‘made for Android’ equivalent.” Um… isn’t that a good thing? Or is having a universally compatible charging port a bad thing? And almost everything listed has an Android equivalent that’s just as good if not better (and usually cheaper). I guess I can see not going to Android for things like iTunes and save data. But I think the benefits much outweigh the problems.

  12. Laughing_Boy48

    The big money on Wall Street believe the iPhone ecosystem has no moat or possibly just a very shallow moat at best. The big money says that Apple’s high-priced smartphones are easily replaced by cheap Android smartphones and consumers won’t even realize the difference. This is the ongoing theme of why Apple doesn’t have much of a future on Wall Street and this is how Apple has been valued for quite a number of years. Just comparing Apple’s P/E ratio to Microsoft’s P/E ratio, it shows how little value Apple has on Wall Street even against a company that is struggling somewhat in the post–PC era. So, although you can come up with all these reasons why Apple should be able to survive against the Android onslaught, none of them seem valid to Wall Street.

    • Do you use iWork, Reminders, Notes or Photo Streams? iCloud works flawlessly (most of the time) between devices.
      Either you don’t use many of the great features of having a Mac and iOS devices or you gotten so used to them that you take them for granted.

  13. I have used BlackBerry for 2 years followed by Apppi iPhone & now Samsung 3s without a hitch. Whichever hardware and software have to offer at the time of your contract time you just to live with it. every 3 to 6 months there is a new player on the block, so what? This looks like a “Paid” article to lure new and keep the current customers to keep with soon be lagging devices. Anyone can list 20 things for other devices. Btw look at the latest issue of CR to find who is the leader among all smart phones. Everyone has diff requirements and need not to take a bias opinion like this article.

  14. Canyon MIke

    One thing not often mentioned is how good a phone the iPhone is. Using the same location and carrier, my iPhone is like landline quality compared the Samsung Android I switched from. And isn’t that why we buy a phone?

    • That’s the first time I’ve ever heard anything good about the iPhone as a phone. Years ago I avoided an iPhone because I wanted a phone, and that was before antennagate. True, I’ve not heard anything particularly bad since then, but I’ve not heard anything good either. Nor have I had an issue with the phone on my S4.

      • Clearly anytime you switch it’s going to be more hassle. I was shocked how easy it was to move from one Android to another. No way could it be that easy if I’d bought an Apple, BB or Microsoft product.

        • Are you kidding? I could throw my iPhone out the window right now, go to the store and buy a new one and be up in running with EVERYTHING that was on my old phone in minutes? EVERYTHING is synced.

          What’s up with the FUD bud?

  15. What an awful, biased and uneducated article. The “useful” features of Apple iOS can be summed up as “Apple has created apps that perform normal communication and sharing functions, but can only talk to Apple devices”. iCloud, iMessage, AirPlay, etc. all fall under that bucket.

    Android – and Windows – do all of those things, but they can communicate to other Androids and to Apple devices. The only reason those apps are not popular on iOS is either Apple blocks them or pre-installs inferior equivalents – the ones that only talk to other Apple devices.

    Instead of being in the tank for Apple fanboys, the author should be talking about how Apple’s software is going to end up meaning that Apple iOS owners will be unable to communicate with 70% of the world soon – because of Apple’s idiocy and stubbornness.

    • The one thought I had at the forefront of my mind when writing this was actually Canon vs Nikon. Once you have made an initial choice, you buy accessories, lenses, flashes, batteries, cables, additional bodies, the works. Pretty soon you have an investment in either Canon or Nikon. Switching to a Nikon camera after owning and investing in Canon for many years is not a decision you make lightly and visa-versa.

    • Freerange

      Typical BS from a brainwashed android fan. The mere fact of tight integration makes Apple SW / apps / hardware far easier to use. And Apple allows thousands of third-party apps to do the same things as their own apps – third-party apps such as Skype, Netflix, pandora, kindle, and even Google’s own apps, etc etc etc.

  16. Jeff Noel

    There is no need for a “made for Android cable.” They pretty much ALL use the same cable– a microUSB. This means that you can take the cable that came from just about ANY other device, and use it to charge/sync your Android phone.

    • Eyemahsource

      Are you saying that I should believe in the judgement of financial oligarchs who operated the world largest Ponzi scheme, purchased the government and stole billions from the taxpayer?

    • The MFi program from Apple is a little more than just about making cables that fit into ones iPhone for charging and syncing. For instance, you can also control the device, and gain access to information about what is currently playing.

      The point being made was more of how much one has already spent on devices and cables that work with the iPhone. Replacing compatible devices and cables that one already has is part of the decision making process to switch. For instance, if you happen to own a SoundDock® Series III digital music system for your iPhone 5, you may be less likely to switch.

    • peterdeep

      The cable is not all about charging and syncing. There’s a world of accessories out there (speaker docks, cars) that communicate with the iPhone and can do so with a lot more information than a USB cable can provide.

      This is one of the reasons why there is such a huge selection of iOS accessories, and I’m surprised that the author ignored this as one of the main reasons to stay with iOS. Speaker docks and other things are a huge investment, and work much better with iPhone simply because of the connector. An Android user wouldn’t be able to appreciate the value of that because it’s something they have been denied, and lied to about why it’s preferable. Suckers.


      I have many a mini hard drive where the microUSB interface has just plain broken off. So I have to crack it open and buy a new enclosure for it. My Nexus 7 microUSB is all but shot.
      If the new Nexus 7 hadn’t just come out I’d have to drop cash on the charging cradle because I have to jiggle it just right to charge. Google should come up with a new standard because the microUSB is junk. It was good for Palm when they invented it for the Treo that’s so turn of the century tech. We need a new interface.

      Apple’s original cable was designed that way because it was originally SCSI interface only. So it was a necessity for 1st gen iPods. The new interface is better than microUSB only in regards to the connection. The contacts on the cable tend to corrode with even the slightest change in humidity. Google really needs to get their engineers together to create a better interface. One that you can plug in the dark and that has contacts that don’t corrode over time.

  17. Ranpha Franboise

    From those 9 features, only the 3rd, 5th and the last one are valid. The 1st one for example, no iPhone/iPad users in their right mid will use iCloud.

    • You can use iCloud without using Mail, Calendar, Reminders, Notes and Contacts. In fact, my primary account that I use for such things is still GMail. I use iCloud for Data Sync, Backups, iMesage, FaceTime, Find My iPhone, GameCenter and Photos. Google can still be the center of your cloud based life with an iPhone. Thankfully Google still supports iOS as much as they do.

    • I love iCloud and have used it without issue for many years, through all the different names. I also love iTunes Match, it’s amazing.

      What drawbacks are there?

  18. I’ve used both Android and iOS for both phones and tablets. There are some advantages and disadvantages to each platform. I have a slight preference for one of these platofrms, but I’m afraid if I say which one it will only invite a lot of negative response.

    Frankly I think some of the “us vs. them” arguments are childish, and remind me of people arguing back in high school days of Commodore 64 vs. Atari 8-bit.