As an iPhone owner since 2013, the announcement of the next iPhone is usually an exciting moment for me. To be more precise, the anticipation leading to the announcement is what’s stimulating; the actual moment of truth tends to be disappointing since 2017. About a year ago, I wrote about how there has not been any dramatic change since the introduction of the iPhone X. The 2021 iPhone, rumored to be called iPhone 13, will not change that trend if all the leaks get confirmed next month.
This made me look towards the Android ecosystem, where some inspiring changes are happening while iPhone power users yawn. Top examples of this are Samsung’s folding devices, like the newly announced Fold3 and Flip3, and Google’s futuristic AI features, namely the on-device speech recognition on the new Pixel 6 or Duplex’s ability to make and receive calls for you.
“So what are you waiting for?” you might ask. Wouldn’t it be nice if a customer could switch from an iPhone to a Pixel without any effort? Big manufacturers like Samsung and Google have been trying to solve this problem with apps that move most of your data between an iOS and an Android device. Nevertheless, they all try to lock you into their own ecosystem without many options to choose where your data goes.
Companies try to lock users into their own ecosystem as a way of increasing their revenue. A user who only uses Apple services is more likely to buy the next device, or subscribe to the next service. For example, Apple One bundles services like Apple Music, Apple TV+ and iCloud into one single subscription, making it easier for people to access these products, while simultaneously making it harder to stop using them. Google and Microsoft use similar strategies to lock in their user base for as long as possible, and they want you to bring your friends and family.
It is both funny and scary to think of the psychological effect that this has on customers. I include myself in that group: the thought of switching to Android made me feel helpless. For example, thousands of articles have been written about the genius move that Apple made with their blue vs green messaging bubbles, which helped keep people using iMessage and therefore handcuffing people to iOS.
This is not a new trend by any means. For years, big tech companies fought —and still are to some extent— for becoming the single providers of online authentication online. Privacy scandals like Facebook’s data breaches have been acting as a wake up call for some, and tech savvy people started relying less and less on a single login for all their services. If diversifying authentication needs (like using unique accounts and strong passwords for different websites) helps protect our privacy, is it time to diversify our data sources too?
I must admit that I am late to this game. Many of my friends have already done this: they use 1Password or LastPass as password manager, they store their photos either locally or in some cloud service with presence in both iOS and Android, they save their contacts in a cloud account that can be imported on any modern OS, etc. I have not done any of that, and I feel like my data storage choices heavily limit the type of device that I can buy.
Last week I transitioned to a combination of services that will make it easy for me to move between mobile ecosystems with less friction. Here’s my resulting setup.
I decided to centralize contacts with my Gmail account. I relied a bit too heavily on Google’s ecosystem and stored my maps data (e.g. places that I would like to visit) on Google Maps, my events in Google Calendar, and my browser bookmarks on Chrome; fortunately this won’t be a problem when switching devices, since Google’s services are available on most ecosystems. I stored all my notes on OneNote, one of the best free note-taking apps out there, and I uploaded my pictures on Amazon Photos since it offers unlimited photo storage for Prime users. I stored all my cloud files on OneDrive and also on Google Drive for backup. Finally, I started using 1Password as password manager.
It took me about a day to complete these app transitions using my current Apple devices: a MacBook, an iPad and an iPhone. Some steps were automated, like uploading tens of gigabytes to Google Photos. And some other steps were slow and manual, like creating location favorites on Google Maps. As I was doing this, a noteworthy hassle I found was that Apple still doesn’t let iOS users set a custom app as their default for maps, but they do allow it for the browser and mail apps.
Regardless of the tedious work required, I’m happier using my iPhone now, since now I feel like it should be relatively painless to switch to a Samsung or Pixel device. Some other people have a much more difficult situation if they wanted to break up with an ecosystem like Apple’s, because they chose products that locked them without an easy way out. The Apple Card introduced in 2019 is one of the best examples: you cannot easily manage that credit card unless you have an iOS device, and closing credit cards have negative implications on one’s credit score. There is a way out, but it is painful.
It should not be this way. When companies create well interconnected ecosystems, customers win in convenience, but when these ecosystems are designed to get users deep into the rabbit hole, they end up losing by getting locked in the journey. And the worst part is that a vast majority won’t even notice.
So what’s next after my Prison Break adventure? First, I had a realization that all that switching now means that I have to adapt to new apps; I’m battling years of “muscle memory” trying to get used to the new interface on Chrome. I’m sure I will get used to it, but it might take a while. In the meantime, I can start focusing on the overwhelming set of options when it comes to changing my phone. Being in the iOS ecosystem made it easy to choose a phone, but the Android ecosystem is wide and full of possible choices. This is a good problem to have, and one that I will explore on a future post. Until then, don’t get locked in!
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Image via Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash