Austin Carr has an interesting piece on leaving Apple’s walled garden.
“Over the past few years, though, it all started to feel claustrophobic. I was only a little annoyed when Siri crept into my apps and search queries. Only a little frustrated that iMessage didn’t allow for modern chatting on non-Apple PCs and phones. Only a little miffed that I couldn’t choose Google Maps as my default navigator or set up an Amazon Echo as easily as Apple’s own HomePod speaker. But these things began to add up, as did the $120 I was spending every year to store my photos on iCloud.”
I’m a pretty happy Apple fanboy, but I spend a lot of time experimenting with and using many different types of hardware. Amazon Echo’s release was one of the first moments I felt a bit claustrophobic in Apple’s ecosystem. That feeling comes back whenever I stumble on a new product category or a place Apple seems to neglect, like smart homes. The walled garden works great when it works, but it can be maddening to watch Apple drag its feet on inevitable product changes or releases.
The default apps on all Apple devices are perfect examples of this; Contacts, Mail, Calendar, and Reminders incrementally add features but only after years of neglect. While these apps lag, Apple continues to build tentpole features like contact posters around these apps, forcing you to ignore cool new features or use a lesser than product.
“You’re no longer competing purely on the merit of the product,” says Carl Pei, co-founder of Chinese electronics maker OnePlus Technology Co. and the new smartphone startup Nothing Technology Ltd. If a person owns both an iPhone and an Apple Watch, Pei says, the chance of getting them to leave iOS is incredibly low. He adds that the Apple-only iMessage service has become “basic infrastructure” of communication and forces a limit on how much new mobile players can grow without it. A Google spokesperson said in a statement, “We believe it should be easy for users to switch between devices and platforms whenever they choose, and we find it frustrating that these principles are not equally shared by all platforms.”
The results can be absolute bliss when Apple taps into the integration potential between its products. AirPods are one of my favorite recent Apple devices in years, and when it works, these headphones feel like absolute magic. FaceTime’s continuity camera magically taps into the iPhone’s cameras for the AppleTV and Mac to use or Universal Control which simply allows someone to move a mouse cursor from a Mac to an iPad. I always assumed that Google, with its profound control of Android OS, might build a similar molt, but they seem unable. As Apple makes these integrations deeper and deeper into the ecosystem, you have to wonder if anyone can compete because Carl Pei is correct. I’m no longer buying an iPhone because it’s a “phone” but for its deep integration across its ecosystem.
Apple and Google invested resources in making the switch easier—the first app that Apple ever published in Google’s store was its 2015 “Move to iOS” app—but the paths remained bumpy. A designer who was working for Google around this time recalls that studies on customer feedback showed ex-iPhone users were frustrated by the process of moving media to Android and confused about leaving iMessage. The worse the first impression was with Google, the more likely people were to give up and switch back. This designer, who, like many insiders interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for career reprisals, remembers one regretful Android tester saying, “I want my life back.”
Last Christmas, my friend moved from Android to iPhone using Apple’s migration app. I blogged about it here, but I was impressed at just how good of a job the app did in deep copying everything, including the system sounds. If anything, it did too much and changed standard iOS defaults to reflect settings from Android.
What was more stark was how complicated iOS and Android have become and how many features feel as if they are universal between the two platforms. I’m curious to try the inverse process and migrate one of my iOS devices to Android. I may have to do that when I find some downtime.
Whenever I rent a car, I have a straightforward request. Please support Apple CarPlay. It is single handily the most important thing for me in the next car I purchase or rent. That makes GM’s news to discontinue support for CarPlay and Android Auto on its future electric vehicles seem so crazy. I’m not the only person that really hates GM’s plan.
What’s tricky is the unenviable position GM, and most car manufacturers have found themselves. The computer that powers a car is increasingly more than an infotainment system. It has become the brain that powers many features, from adaptive cruise control to automatic parking. GMs move is to create an integrated system that couples map with extending a vehicle’s battery or warming it before charging. The car computer is the thing that will lead us to autonomous driving and put a pretty facade on it.
The problem war car companies face is not about vehicles but owning the relationship between us and all computing devices. The walled gardens around many of us keep getting taller and harder to separate. Today I move seamlessly from iPhone to iPad to Mac, and some of my data flows with me as I move from one to the other. What car manufacturers seem to forget is that the war is not for some of our attention but all of it. My phone is a device that has become my wallet, driver’s license, controls my house, opens my office door, knows my meetings, connects me with friends and family, and so much more. I no longer listen to FM, AM, or XM radio – I listen to Spotify, Apple Music, or podcasts. For many of us, our phone offers a ubiquitous ness that has transformed it into the closest thing we have ever had to a trustworthy digital assistant.
The next leap for cars is to build on that relationship. It’s a future where the car is nice and warm and ready for the morning commute. It is one where it effortlessly picks up on the morning news, podcast, or music and transitions it to the drive. Or one where the car and house share information to keep the temperature the same. This future requires deep knowledge of its user, and at present, Apple, Google, and Samsung are the exclusive holders of this data.
For GM, this is a hard place to live. Giving up the center console long-term places it on a path to be a commodity where the guts of the vehicle no longer come from the manufacturer. Worse, if Apple and Google directly compete and build a car – a place Google’s sister company Waymo already partially contends – it will be difficult, if not impossible, for them to differentiate.
The EV transformation masks many massive undercurrents facing the car industry. What is clear is this market will be very different in a decade. I bet the winners will have some version of Apple and Google’s platforms on the dashboard.
How many of you remember the great Apple Maps debacle? In the business books of major failures – Apple Maps must sit in the top 25.
I never stopped using Apple Maps, but I did bounce between Google Maps and its sister product Waze, and weirdly, along the way, Apple Maps got good. It got really good – some say it is the best US mapping platform. Maps showcase Apple’s superpower that sometimes gets overlooked – commitment and persistence. It sets its mind to things, and over painful and consistent iteration, it can turn the largest turd into a diamond.
While this is great for Apple, many small businesses could care less. If you want to build brand recognition or get more people in the door, you have relied on SEO, Google Search Ads, Social Media Marketing, or updating your Google My Business Profile. All the combined tactics have become the base layer of the small business digital marketing playbook.
Apple, however, is slowly offering products that uniquely highlight its competitive advantage and shows that it may have the plan to push into this small business market in a much bigger way.
For starters, Google’s My Business Profile is a product that has allowed them to crowd-source data and, in exchange, offer companies a boost in relevance across its search platforms. If you do not have a profile, I highly recommend you leave now and create one. Google uses this to ensure it has up-to-date information, including links to menus, open and close times, reviews, rich photos, and other data. Knowing and assuming that the info given to it is better than what it can get from crawling, it tends to feature businesses with this profile data over those who do not provide it.
Apple knew it needed to make up ground and partnered with Yelp to source this data for its Maps platform. Still, in the last year, it has become much more aggressive in providing a new tool named Business Connect that allows business owners also to offer this same type of data to Apple. Like Google’s My Profile, some evidence shows that Apple prioritizes results from customers providing this data in its internal search results using features like Spotlight.
Rumors also point to Apple beefing up its internal ad division with some trial and error – but the writing has long been on the wall that Business Connect is the building block for more extensive paid search ads in Apple Maps. Some suggest that spotlight search ads like Maps could become extensions of Apple’s App Store search tools and provide businesses with increasing ways to reach Apple’s customers.
What makes this very Apple is the focus on exploitability within its walled ecosystem. Apple’s approach to working with businesses is giving them what they know is a valuable audience – high-income Apple users – while also making it easier for its customers to access what they need without leaving the walled garden.
That’s right, in Apple’s world, these ads for business help Apple customers engage within the ecosystem they love – and we all benefit. After you find a listing on Apple Maps you can always ask questions with Apple Business Chat and feel the integration with iMessage. Are you looking for reservations? OpenTable, for years, has had deep integration with Apple allowing you to reserve directly from the Maps app or by voice with Siri. Once you make it inside, pay with ease using Apple Pay – I love the ability to pay at a restaurant using a QR code.
Like many things, Apple is playing its cards slowly, but bit by bit its game plan to target small businesses is beginning to crystalize. If you’re finding the competition super steep on Social Media, Google, and other platforms it could be time to dip a toe into Apple’s unique model and try seeing who wants what you have in its ivory-colored walls.
My friend recently made the big shift from Android to the iPhone. As I celebrated her finally joining the blue text messages club and her ability to join family albums, use share play, and so many other iOS features, we had to start with the very first step. Migration.
I’m not the average Apple customer. As a developer and tech enthusiast, I read about features before they get released, tune in to every announcement, and regularly run beta versions of iOS. I typically keep a Google Pixel phone around to keep up on Android trends and test applications we build for our customers, but I have never used Apple’s migration application, so I must admit that I was giddy with excitement to see just how well it truly works.
The process could not have been simpler. The new iPhone presented us with a QR code we scanned with the Android phone to download the Move to iOS app from the Google Play store. Once downloaded, it asked us for a one-time code that appeared on the iPhone. After that, we received a few warnings about the access the move to iOS app requested but other than that, it was a click and wait. The download began at nearly 3 hours but, in reality, took closer to 30 minutes. Once migrated, we chucked the Android phone in a corner (joking!!) and completed the iOS setup process. If you have upgraded iOS on an iPhone you know the standard options like setting up Siri and Face ID.
The migration was pretty remarkable in how deeply it copied everything over. It moved over messages, loaded contacts, preconfigured email, calendar, photos, pre-downloaded all of her apps, and even managed to maintain the ring tones and text sounds from her Android phone. She was literally able to pick up the phone and begin using it without skipping a beat.
Once the phone was up and running, I sat, hoping to see how she experienced the dynamics of a much cleaner and easier-to-use phone.
I tried my best to avoid pressing buttons and jumping in – but I did way too much of that. But what I witnessed surprised me – decades of software updates had made many features that felt normal to me unwelcoming or complex. So much of what I wondered to be intuitive really came from my years and years of using iOS devices.
Features like swiping to search or control center become things that imagine many users may never really discover. I notice this same dynamic often at Mindgrub when new employees moved from Windows to macOS for the first time. I often take screenshots or use Quick Look to view previews while searching for a particular file.
Many of these things are both easy and so so hard. As iOS and macOS have grown layers and layers have caked on top of each other, and the layers have made us forget that things are no longer as easy or intuitive as they once were.
Migrating was a fascinating reminder to stop and think of the long journey all software takes and remind ourselves of the difference between common knowledge or common intuitiveness and learned intuitiveness.