/ Technology

Giant tech brands – which one has your loyalty?

Choosing a phone, tablet or computer could be a bigger investment than you thought. Not only are you buying the product, you’re also buying into a tech ecosystem. And once you’re part of the club, how easy is to leave?

There was a time when technology firms were happy simply selling us their latest gadgets. That may still be true for some, but for tech titans such as Apple and Google, the real focus now is on getting us to buy into their whole ecosystem of related products and services.

These companies know that the big money isn’t in that single purchase, it’s in getting us to use, and pay for, their services over and over again. And when we say big money we’re not exaggerating – in 2013 the four main players (Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft) had combined annual revenues of more than $390bn. That’s almost double Ireland’s GDP.

Products and services in harmony

Whether you’re aware of it or not, most of us have already bought into one system or another. For example, if you own an iPad then you don’t simply have a tablet, you’re part of Apple’s world and can access a huge array of the brand’s interconnected services such as apps, email, music, movies, maps and much, much more.

This integration of products and services can offer significant benefits, especially if you have multiple devices. It makes it simple to back up photos, for example, and then view or share them using any compatible product. Your emails, instant messages and contacts can be seamlessly synced across your tablet, phone and laptop, while wirelessly streaming a video from your smartphone to your TV can be as simple as a couple of taps of a screen.

Attractive, but hard to leave

While ecosystems can make our lives easier, trying to switch between them can be incredibly frustrating. And although some services can be used on almost any device – for example, Amazon’s Kindle ebook app is available on Apple, Android and Windows devices – that’s far from typical. For example, if you buy a film through iTunes then you won’t be able to view it on a smartphone or tablet from another brand without resorting to a complicated workaround.

It’s not just films, music or ebooks you’ve bought that are affected, either. If you’ve paid for apps in one ecosystem, you’ll almost certainly have to buy them again to use them on a product from a different one.

Such restrictions may not be a concern for the casual user, and there are often third-party alternatives to the default services that work across multiple ecosystems – examples include Dropbox (cloud storage), Spotify (music) and Netflix (TV and film).

Despite these third-party services, you’ll still need to think carefully before investing heavily into one of the big tech brands – because the more you invest, the harder it becomes to leave.

Do you think tech ecosystems are making our lives easier? Which one have you chosen or are you juggling more than one?

Which tech giants are you loyal to? (multiple choice)

Google (23%, 180 Votes)

Amazon (20%, 154 Votes)

Apple (19%, 145 Votes)

Microsoft (18%, 140 Votes)

None of the above (14%, 107 Votes)

Sony (7%, 52 Votes)

Total Voters: 441

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Microsoft has always been the market leader for a PC operating system. Most applications (by which I don’t mean apps) are available only for Microsoft Windows.

On the other hand, Apple has become the market leader for mobile devices. The iPhone and iPad, and formerly the iPod, were all the first widespread devices of their type. The number of apps available for Apple’s iOS devices considerably exceeded those available for other mobile operating systems, although Google’s Android has caught up.

Therefore I have a Dell M3800 netbook running Microsoft Windows 8.1 and an Apple iPhone 6 64GB.

I don’t see Google’s Android becoming dominant in a cross-platform way because Google doesn’t have a widespread PC operating system. On the other hand, Microsoft’s Windows 10 will be the same operating system across PCs and mobile devices, meaning greater compatibility and consumers needing to buy in to only one ecosystem. Apple could achieve something similar, but its higher prices will impede it from becoming the norm for PC operating systems and consequently for a cross-platform ecosystem.

I started using Apple computers at home and at work in the early 90s and have never looked back. I honestly hate the company but have always been impressed by how well their computers work, presumably because they make both the software and hardware. The only time I can remember being disappointed was in the mid/late 90s when the company was going through a bad patch. Nowadays, upgrades to Apple operating systems are free. I have experienced amazing reliability with Apple desktop and laptop machines. At the price, I would be very disappointed if they were not reliable.

I have always enjoyed using Apple operating systems and the trackpads on their laptops are very versatile when you get to grips with them. I have an iPad 2 and an iPhone 6, but they don’t impress me to the same extent. It’s nice that everything synchronises but particularly with the iPhone I’m not convinced that there is any great advantage over the rivals.

I don’t spend much on apps compared with most phone and tablet users. It concerns me that Adobe have moved from selling software (such as InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and Photoshop) to monthly subscription because many are using pirate copies. I believe the same applies with Microsoft Office.

I am a very keen user of Dropbox for file sharing. Spotify came ‘free’ with my genuine fixed price phone contract, but they offer a limited selection of classical music. Sony is a brand that I avoid because in the 70s they were pretending that their products were superior to the competition. Maybe with their professional products but not what they sold to the public.

Oops. I’ve checked and I have an iPhone 5S rather than an iPhone 6. I guess I’m the only smartphone owner who does not know which phone he has. It’s just a tool as far as I’m concerned. It really annoys me that a cannot carry a spare battery for the phone. Thank you Apple. 🙁

Don’t use Dropbox, especially not for backing up your own data; it’s not secure. Instead use Spideroak, as recommended by Edward Snowden.

I have been using Dropbox for years to make photos available to others, often in connection with the charities I work for. There is never anything confidential and some of the photos are for publication. Thanks for the warning.