The stickiness of the Apple ecosystem

Best! Credit: Team Coco via Flickr

This weekend, I went into the Apple Store in my local mall and bought an iPhone 5S. (Gold, if you must know, because gold is best!) 

The decision to buy a new phone was easy. My iPhone 4 was more than three years old, and was still on 3G. Plus, it was starting to experience all the problems you'd expect from a phone that age -- battery life was down to about four hours, or less with heavy use, which meant I had to have separate plugs at home and work and carry another one with my everywhere on business. The home button was also growing unresponsive, which two Apple Store employees told me was a well-known problem on phones of that age.

But why did I buy another iPhone?

I've had plenty of opportunity to try out other phones, and I know that some of them beat the iPhone on pure specs. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has a much better camera -- one of the writers at CITEworld recently showed me some absolutely gorgeous high-resolution shots of flowers that seemed to have been taken from a few inches away, then zoomed back to show me that she was actually standing feet away. Plus, I recently used a Windows Phone for 6 months and liked it quite a lot, especially the way it handles contact management.

I've also had the chance to test the last two Google Nexus 7 tablets out, and while early versions of Android were annoying and glitchy, the latest tablets have always worked flawlessly for me. I have a Google Play account and use Google services like Gmail and Google+ pretty heavily, so it would fit well into my life. I also know there's Android hardware with great specs from Samsung, Motorola, and others. Another writer recently showed me some pictures on the screen on the Galaxy Note 3 and it was absolutely gorgeous.

In the end, it came down to Apple's ecosystem. This is the thing that a lot of pundits writing about Apple's inevitable decline miss: Once you're in Apple's ecosystem, it's hard to leave. I don't mean that to sound like a scary Hotel California-type reference either. It's hard to leave because there's really no compelling reason to leave, and plenty of reasons to stay.

  • All my music is in iTunes. Yeah, the desktop application kind of sucks, but I've adjusted to its quirks, labeled all my music with custom genre tags, and downloaded a bunch of tunes there. I know all that music and related metadata will transfer to my new phone.
  • It has all the apps I know and love. Instagram? Check. Dots? Check. NFL app to check real-time Seahawks scores? Check. NextBus to check when my ride is coming? Check. Uber to order a car when the bus isn't coming for another hour? Check. I know these apps or equivalents are available on Android and (in some cases) Windows Phone, but why shake up my daily routine when I don't have to? 
  • The Apple Store is a five-minute drive from my house and I know they'll be able to get me set up before I leave the store. As I expected, they helped me back up my photostream and settings to iCloud so everything just appeared on my new iPhone.  This took longer than I hoped -- uploading my contacts info took about 20 minutes -- but was still relatively painless, and it was fantastic to see all my apps, photos, and various settings (like the settings for my two email accounts and all my preset alarms) on my new phone the second it was turned on.
  • I know vital things will just work. It will sync email, contacts, and calendar info with Exchange, flawlessly. I will be able to connect to my company's full Wi-Fi network rather than just the limited-access guest network -- the iPhone can accept certificates where my Windows Phone could not. 

On their own, none of these things is a big deal. But I don't want to spend the time discovering flaws, redownloading apps and reconfiguring settings, and discovering workarounds for things that don't work right And so far, I haven't heard or seen anything on any other platform that makes me want to switch, nor has Apple disappointed me in some huge fundamental way to drive me to switch.

A lot of pundits test lots of technology and are comfortable moving between platforms. Normal people aren't. That's why the experts frequently underestimate the strength of Apple's installed base.

One example that cropped up just over the weekend: While the tech press hated Apple Maps -- and for good reason in many cases (I can't believe they still don't have mass transit information) -- recent statistics reported by Charles Arthur at the Guardian show that it actually dislodged most users from Google Maps. That's because Apple Maps is integrated into iOS -- it shows up when you click on an address in an email or calendar appointment. Google Maps isn't and can't be. The ecosystem wins.

So how do I like my new iPhone? The fingerprint sensor is a real convenience -- my company requires a passcode, and now I don't have to enter it every time the phone locks. Opening and switching between apps is noticeably faster, and the ability to quickly close down background apps is nice (although I haven't noticed any performance problems yet even with more than a dozen apps running.) I love the new photo app. Siri is entertaining, although I haven't found her particularly useful yet. I haven't even started to explore AirDrop or apps that take advantage of the new motion sensor, but I feel that their inclusion helps future-proof the phone a bit.

The only drawback is the new Lightning connector, which means that all my old accessories require an adapter. The stock adapter from Apple is insanely overpriced at $29, and isn't long enough to fit through the opening on the new Tech21 case I bought, which means I'll have to take some sharp clippers to the case to carve out a bigger hole on the bottom so I can connect it to my car stereo.

There was one other moment where I felt a slight pang of regret. When I brought it home, my three-year-old son saw it and asked "You got a gold phone?"


"You didn't like your black phone?" He looked genuinely disappointed. What was wrong with daddy that he had to go buy a new phone when the old one was perfectly good?

When he's older, I'll introduce him to the writings of Thorstein Veblen....until then, he's happy with the fact that YouTube videos start playing a lot faster than they did.

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