Opinion: My kingdom for an ecosystem that works

ecosystem wars

I’ve been asked the same question many times before and it always stumps me in a particular way that no other gadget-related issue can. Specifically, when someone asks me which mobile phone or software ecosystem they should aim for, I can’t give them a definite answer. I can’t just show them a Droid-based handset and say, “off you go” because it might not fit their particular use-case. I can’t stick a deal for a Macbook in their face because that changes their software choice considerably.

Angry Windows 8 haters? I can’t even turn them to Linux because they are gamers. And this is all made more of an acute issue thanks to ecosystem tie-ins with mobile phones, which you use everyday and are always in your pants or purses.

Recently, I realised that my phone is crap. Speed has dropped tremendously, multi-tasking slows it to a crawl, firmware updates are nonexistent and there are few options for replacement when it comes to batteries. In realising that I’m long overdue for an upgrade, I’ve been struck by the same plight as the people I help on a daily basis – which ecosystem do I target to suit my needs?

Here’s the dilemma – I have a desktop and a netbook running Windows 8. I have Office 2013 installed on both and they’re both updated fully. I also have a LG C660 running Android Gingerbread. I rely a lot on Google’s services for e-mail and IM between myself and colleagues, although I also keep mail accounts with Outlook.com. I don’t have all my contacts in one location and I don’t have my passwords or bookmarks synced on all three devices.

I also don’t have any fluidity between any of my devices. File sharing over my home network is done manually without using a homegroup and I don’t have the exact same setup for Modern UI on my desktop or laptop. As I use Chrome and Firefox extensively, I can’t have bookmarks or history accessed from my phone since I use Opera Mini to save on data. I don’t like the Opera desktop browser either. I don’t use Instagram, I barely use Twitter on my phone and I don’t take any photos because the camera is terribad.

If I had to replace my phone, I need to consider which ecosystem I now want to tie myself into because I can’t keep up a disjointed setup. With Blackberry a distant fourth wheel in the market, Symbian no longer alive or kicking and Firefox OS  not yet available, I have only the big three to consider – Windows Phone, iOS and Android.

iOS – Not an option

Hmmmm... nah!
Hmmmm… nah!

Although the build quality of iPhones is often superb and the way iOS handles apps and third-party software is excellent, it’s still a disjointed experience. I’d have to use iTunes for photo, video and music syncs and I absolutely loathe using iTunes on a Windows machine. If I was running a Macbook then this would be up for serious consideration, but I can’t effectively use everything that Apple’s ecosystem could offer me to sort out my digital life.

I can’t effectively use iCloud either and it’s one of the biggest draws of the Apple ecosystem. I’ve set it up once before for a customer when I was still working in retail and it was a seamless experience. Photos were synced once snapped, notes were accessible on any device, music was available through iTunes match and bookmarks and passwords were all there. Currently, this also extends to iMessages which also syncs up with the OS X desktop application as well.

Its possible to use Google services on Apple devices (even though Google Maps isn’t available) so there is some versatility there. I’d also have access to Whatsapp, BBM, GTalk and Facebook chat. But as previously mentioned, because I don’t use OS X or iCloud or even iWork, iOS isn’t an option.

Android? Hrmmmmmmm

Android KitKat header

Android is arguably the half-way point between iOS and Windows Phone and it’s as neutral as Switzerland in most regards. Like Linux, Google is always on the bleeding edge of innovation and the relentless pace of their mobile OS shows no signs of slowing down, swallowing the mobile market like a giant tsunami. Staying with the latest tech trends is a lot easier on the Android platform than any other.

Because I’m already using a good chunk of Google’s services (including Google+ and Youtube) it would be a good fit. I can sync up emails easily, Google Drive offers a range of features like document storage, scan to PDF and online editing and there’s QuickOffice available on most Droids with real-time editing available in Google Docs.

Hell, since I use Chrome already, bookmarks and history can be synced over if I have a phone with the ability to run Chrome for Mobile. I can keep an aggregated list of contacts and calendars and have it all synced up. Only, the issue is that Google Calendar currently does not sync between Outlook 2013 and the Google Sync service – it only works on Office 2010 and Microsoft is killing CalDav and CardDav support in Office for anyone not using Google Apps for Business. Meh.

Sure, I can access these through the online portals, but it’s not that fantastic. Although Google apps are entrenched in my work and collaboration with other NAG Online staff, I can’t effectively integrate them into my existing apps on the desktop properly. I don’t want to live in the browser all the time and I don’t want to move to Thunderbird for calendar syncing either. If I ever come up with a brilliant master plan for making money and save it in a document on Google Drive, Google’s within their rights to steal that idea as well.

Although a new Android phone would work for me, not only will I be spending more money on data to keep things synced up, I’m still going to have a disjointed setup. With the deprecation of Google Talk for the desktop (now replaced by Hangouts) I can’t even have synced conversations because Pidgin doesn’t support it.  Still, it might be a better solution than…

Giving all my base to Microsoft

Windows Phone

Opting for a Nokia Lumia device seems like a logical idea. I can use a Outlook account to sign into all three devices and have contacts, calendars, bookmarks and history synced up along with the tie-ins from OneDrive with the Camera Roll, synced documents and a mobile version of Office. OneDrive contents are available on all devices and syncing performance is as good as Dropbox. As far as my needs go, Microsoft does have an answer to most of them.

All this, however, requires me to drop Google’s services and use Microsoft’s instead. This includes switching my calendar over to Outlook, syncing all my contacts to Outlook, having all my messaging handled by Outlook and having to deal with spam on a daily basis. In addition, I’d have to find alternative ways of using Google Talk or Hangout and I’d have to commit the most heinous of crimes – to actually use Internet Explorer. Eugh!

Mind you, since my colleagues don’t use Outlook’s calendars, this could pose a problem when it comes to collaboration between teams. Google does calendaring very well and we’re all entrenched already in one way or another, so I’d be operating on my own in this regard.

There’s also the issue that Microsoft’s Modern UI apps for Mail, Calendar and People are not that great. The UI is big and clunky on Windows 8 and wastes a lot of screen estate that could be used more efficiently. At least Skype is somewhat good in a full-screened app, though I much prefer the desktop version. I could even use it as a Whatsapp replacement should Facebook ever screw that up, but who uses Skype for texting?

Seriously, anyone? Anyone use Skype for texting? Conversations aren’t even saved online for searching later. Why hasn’t Microsoft implemented that yet? Messages aren’t even synced with offline Skype clients.

In the end…

I don’t know what I’ll choose even when weighing up the pros and cons. Flipping a coin between Android and Windows Phone is easy, but I have to live with the way in which each ecosystem handles integration and it may or may not work for me. I want it to just work – I spend enough time troubleshooting other’s computers, I don’t want to have to fix my own.

What are your experiences with adopting ecosystems when your hand is forced? What did you choose and why? Let me know in the comments below and in our forums.

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