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Choosing an electronic ecosystem: Apple, Google, or Microsoft?

Google vs Microsoft vs Apple tablets windows 8 android nexus 7 ios ipad

There are many advantages to going with a single ecosystem for your desktop PC, laptop PC, mobile phone, and tablet. (Even game system and television, in some cases.) Devices within that ecosystem are designed to work well with each other. They sync easily so that preferences and media can be effortlessly copied or shared with multiple devices. Applications may be universal, meaning they require a single purchase to work on multiple devices at the same time. And the user interfaces are usually similar or identical across devices.

Though many users cross ecosystems and choose iOS, Android, and Windows devices based on need and not interoperability, we’re going to focus on what happens when a user decides to stay within a single ecosystem: what are the advantages and disadvantages, and what are the weak links are in that ecosystem?

Apple

Apple probably has the most tightly integrated ecosystem of any of the three. ITunes is just a better application on Apple products than on Microsoft’s products. And Apple has a television device, the AppleTV, that fits right into the ecosystem as well.

Benefits of the Apple ecosystem

In the Apple ecosystem, Apple devices back up to the same iCloud system that other Apple devices and PCs can use. You can stream music and video to other devices (like the Apple TV) using free AirPlay functionality. You can even mirror the device’s screen on another device. It makes a lot of sense to have multiple Apple devices in a home.

Operating system updates on iPhones and iPads are always free, updating an iPod Touch is usually free, and updating a Mac to the latest OS will run you $20. Note that there’s never a charge for incremental updates.

Once you purchase an app on any Apple device, you can sync it to any other Apple device free, or re-download it without restrictions. This is also the same for media purchased in iTunes.

Drawbacks of the Apple ecosystem

Old operating systems swiftly become unsupported by hardware and software, forcing you on an upgrade path that you may not necessarily wish to take. The flipside is also bad: newer Apple OSes can often not run legacy apps. Don’t even try to run an old PowerPC Mac app on a newer Intel Mac. It won’t work.

Apple even stops offering support for older versions of its operating systems after only a year or two, a far narrower window than, say, Windows. Also, app developers often discontinue support for earlier versions of iOS, or earlier device generations, forcing you to upgrade to continue using the app. For example, many new high-profile apps don’t work on the first iPad at all.

The other big weakness is that Apple’s ecosystem will run you much more money than any of the others. You’re paying for the brand, and also an expectation of quality 

Mobile phone

iPhone 5Millions of people consider the iPhone the best smartphone ever, and with good reason: it pioneered the touchscreen and spawned dozens of imitators. The newest iPhone 5 offers 4G connectivity and a  larger screen, and the newest iPod Touch also offers a larger screen and a thin form factor.

Tablet

The newest iPads are more expensive than competing Android tablets. They offer a similar experience as the iPhone and iPod Touch, but on a larger scale and with many tablet-specific applications. Apple also introduced the iPad mini this year for those who want an iPad that’s closer in size to an iPhone.

Computer

The Mac itself is somewhat of the weakest link in the Apple ecosystem. Someone used to the touchscreen iOS interface of the iPhone and iPad is going to be confused that Apple doesn’t even offer a touchscreen option for the Mac. And though several of the icons look the same, Apple’s OS X is very different than iOS. That said, iTunes works very well on the Mac, and it’s much less of a headache to sync an iPhone or iPad with a Mac than a PC. If you can justify the expense, adding a Mac to complete the Apple ecosystem makes a lot of sense. Plus, when you get a look at the slim, 5-millimeter-thick iMacs, it’s going to be hard to say no. 

Other devices

Like a gaming system, AppleTV is a device that connects to your TV via HDMI. But it’s not a gaming system; instead, it streams movies and TV shows to your TV from your iTunes library in the cloud. You can also stream media from an Apple device using AirPlay. This little $99 device fits right in to the Apple family and is really useful.

But what about Google…?