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Avoid Apple Ecosystem Lock-In

Avoid Apple Ecosystem Lock-In

Apple’s ecosystem offers a compelling synergy of products and content that work together. Unfortunately, this ecosystem can also lock you in to Apple products. This article explains how to avoid Apple ecosystem lock-in.

Apple has monopolistic tendencies. They also make excellent devices and operating systems. Many Apple fans will blindly purchase anything that Apple releases, ignoring other vendors. This is as ludicrous as wearing jeans, a denim shirt, a denim cap, denim socks and denim underwear. The denim-clad person may sound amusing, but I think someone who blindly buys into every Apple product is just as ridiculous.

Not all Apple products are excellent. iTunes is horrible. Apple Music is the worst music subscription service on the market. Apple TV lags behind its competitors and it costs more too.

A lot of Apple users started with the iPhone. The iPhone is one of the best smartphones on the market. In my opinion, it is the best smartphone available today. Sure, you can look at meaningless specs, tout them as essential, and claim other smartphones are better.

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Better screen resolutions are often superfluous because the retina can only perceive a certain level of detail. Processor specs aren’t comparable because some operating systems are more efficient than others. Apps compiled to machine language (iOS) are generally faster than apps that run on interpreted code. Cameras with vast quantities of megapixels often take poor quality photos, because they don’t allow enough light into the sensors. Smartphones with excellent battery life often spontaneously combust, because the lithium-ion cells are too compact.

Apple got it right with the iPhone. It’s a perfect balance of the right functionality, without giving in to gimmicky and useless specs. It’s the only smartphone that offers console-quality gaming. The iPhone’s multimedia creation capabilities are peerless. GarageBand only exists on iOS and there are even better multimedia tools available in the App Store. If you want the best overall smartphone, the iPhone is an excellent choice.

The iPhone’s excellence casts a halo over other Apple products. Customers often assume that because one Apple product is great, every Apple product is just as good. This simply isn’t true. Apple makes some mediocre products. Aside from the iPhone, their innovation has been lagging and they have succumbed to being a “me too” company.

Apple TV 4 is a perfect example. It launched years after other TV appliances offered voice control. Unlike its competitors, it doesn’t support 4K UHD resolution. It also costs more than other superior TV appliances. I begrudgingly purchased an Apple TV 4 knowing these facts, because I am locked in to the Apple ecosystem. I own a few hundred dollars worth of iTunes movies and TV shows. These can only be played on Apple devices. That’s how they get you. Now let’s take a look at how to avoid Apple ecosystem lock-in.

Don’t Buy iTunes Movies and TV Shows

Unlike iTunes music, movies and TV shows purchased from Apple cannot be played on other devices, with the exception of a Windows PC running iTunes. Apple is pretty much the only corporation that does this. Competitors such as Amazon and Google allow video purchases to be played on different devices. If I own TV shows and movies from either Google or Amazon, I can play them on my Apple TV using AirPlay. They can be played on a Mac, iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Roku TV appliances can play Amazon and Google movies and TV shows natively.

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iTunes movies and TV shows tend to be more expensive than other options. I recommend shopping around for the best deal. All of these services offer HD video with surround sound. In fact, since Amazon and Google do a much better job of running their data centers, you’ll encounter fewer frustrations if you avoid the iTunes Store.

Be Conservative with App Store Purchases

Despite my willingness to avoid Apple ecosystem lock-in, I still prefer their hardware. I will continue to buy iPhones and Macs. That said, I am much more conservative with App Store purchases, just in case. If Apple launches a defective iPhone and I need to purchase a competing smartphone, my apps can’t be moved over. For this reason, I only buy apps if it is absolutely necessary. There are so many great free apps in the App Store, I rarely find it necessary to purchase one.

One consolation is that Apple’s apps are often transferable across several devices. Their Universal apps can be used on multiple devices with one purchase. An app you buy for your iPhone can be used on your iPad and Apple TV (if there is a tvOS version available). Despite this advantage, you’re still locked into the Apple ecosystem. You may still want to think twice before purchasing an expensive app.

Don’t Subscribe to Apple Music

Apple Music is a defective Spotify clone. It’s not original and its quality leaves much to be desired. The app is buggy and Apple’s data center operations are inferior to their competitors’. Apple fans may believe they are supporting their favorite company or saving the music industry. I think they’re enabling Apple to sell inferior products and services. If Apple Music fails, they will need to take a long, hard look at the quality of their apps and services.

Apple Music also locks users into the Apple ecosystem. While they do offer an Android app and Windows compatibility using iTunes, there’s no web-based player. Unlike Spotify or Google Music, using Apple Music anywhere can be a challenge. If you go to a friend’s house you may need to install iTunes on their computer in order to use Apple Music. Google Play Music and Spotify subscribers can just open a browser window, log in, and it’s party time!

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While Apple Music doesn’t lock in users in as much as iTunes movies and TV shows, the lack of a web-based player limits your options. Both Spotify and Google Play Music also offer better audio quality, better app quality and even better user interfaces. Don’t be fooled by the halo effect of Apple’s UI expertise. That’s absent in Apple Music. It almost seems like the app was designed by summer interns.

Don’t Buy iBooks

The digital world has replaced paper books with e-books. Instead of lugging your library everywhere, users can access their book collection on a single, compact device. Amazon has always been the leader when it comes to e-books, and their popular Kindle app is available to every Apple device. The Kindle app works on Android devices, and of course, on Amazon Kindle and Fire devices. No matter which device you use in the future, your Amazon e-books will be available. Simply download the Kindle app, sign on, and download your e-books.

Apple’s iBooks are overpriced. Although their format offers some advanced interactive capabilities, they charge an exorbitant price. The Kindle version is always less expensive.

Apple went through some notorious legal struggles over e-books. They colluded with publishers to fix e-book prices, which hurts consumers. They claim this was done in response to Amazon dumping e-books below cost. Apple alleged that Amazon did this in order to dominate the e-book market. It’s possible that they did it to sell Kindle tablets. Let’s face it — everything Amazon sells is inexpensive and everything Apple sells is overpriced. Even the biggest Apple fan has purchased something from Amazon at some point.

Regardless of Apple’s claims, colluding to fix prices is illegal. They were caught, lost the case and had to reimburse customers. When it comes to e-books, there’s no moral high ground with Apple. Buying an iBook costs more and enables Apple’s anti-competitive behaviors. If you move to another brand of smartphone or tablet, you’ll have to buy those books again, because iBooks only work on Apple devices.

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Beware of Apple TV

Apple’s new TV device, Apple TV 4, features an App Store. Unlike the iOS App Store, it’s missing some important apps. The tvOS App Store doesn’t have Spotify, Google Play or Amazon Video. This deficiency could be due to the lack of Apple TV users, although developers can reuse a lot of iOS code when creating a tvOS app. Perhaps Amazon wants you to buy a Kindle Fire TV, as they have gone so far as to stop selling Apple TV. It’s also possible that Apple is not approving tvOS apps that thwart in-app purchasing. Spotify, Google Play and Amazon all bypass Apple’s in-app purchasing in the iOS App Store. We may never know the reason why Apple TV 4 doesn’t offer these services.

Apple TV 4 owners can access Google Play, Amazon Video and Spotify using AirPlay technology. This involves using the iOS app to beam content from their iPhone, iPad or iPod touch onto Apple TV. Macs can also beam these services to Apple TV using AirPlay. AirPlay works quite well, but the user experience leaves something to be desired. You can’t just pick up your Apple TV’s Siri Remote and quickly launch a Google Play video.

Those considering an Apple TV 4 may want to look elsewhere. Roku is probably the best option in terms of working with virtually every ecosystem, except Apple’s. If you buy or rent videos using Google Play or Amazon, Roku offers native apps for both vendors. Roku also offers devices supporting 4K UHD resolution. Unfortunately, Apple does not offer an iTunes app for Roku.

I purchased an Apple TV 4 to replace my Apple TV 2, which was hobbled by bad updates and neglect. Apple failed to provide a critical update for Apple TV 2, which forced YouTube to pull their channel from the device. Nonetheless, I purchased an Apple TV 4 because I am locked into the Apple ecosystem. I have a few hundred dollars worth of iTunes movies and TV shows, including the complete Star Wars collection. These can only be played on Apple TV, Apple devices or a Windows computer with iTunes. If I got a Roku, I wouldn’t be able to play my iTunes purchases on my television.

This is a cautionary tale about Apple’s ecosystem. Don’t make the same mistake I did. I could have purchased these same movies and TV shows on Google Play or Amazon, and they would have worked on Apple TV (via AirPlay) or Roku.

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If you have a large library of iTunes movies and TV shows, your best bet is to go with Apple TV. It’s not the worst situation. I really like the Apple TV hardware, particularly the Siri Remote. After the tvOS 10 update, the device is much more stable. Still, it lags behind the competition with its lack of support for 4K UHD video. It also costs much more than competing devices that offer 4K UHD resolution and cater to a more open ecosystem.

Avoiding Apple Ecosystem Lock-In Prevents an Apple Monopoly

There’s quite a few advantages to avoiding Apple ecosystem lock-in. As previously stated, it keeps your options open in terms of devices. It’s much less painful to switch to another smartphone if you aren’t walking away from hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of apps and content. Beyond the obvious advantage, there’s also a macroeconomic benefit to avoiding Apple ecosystem lock-in. You’re making it harder for Apple to become a monopoly.

Every public corporation wants to rule the world. Their end game is to become a monopoly. Apple is no more bent on domination than any other company. The excellence of certain products has propelled the corporation into a powerful position. They can now use the App Store to engage in anti-competitive behavior. For example, Apple has notoriously rejected Spotify app updates as the music service continues to thwart in-app purchasing. Amazon and Google do the same thing, however, a long, drawn out legal battle with another tech titan would be a Pyrrhic victory, at best. Instead, Apple chooses to pick on the small startup that delivers a superior music subscription service.

Apple can’t compete on merit, so they use dirty tricks. It’s reasonable for Spotify to pay Apple for hosting their app in the App Store. It’s unreasonable for them to take 1/3 of monthly subscription fees, in perpetuity, for simply hosting an app download. Spotify can only distribute their app to Apple devices using the App Store.

Apple is not hosting Spotify’s service. Apple doesn’t steam Spotify’s music from their data center. They still want 1/3 of Spotify’s revenues, in perpetuity. Apple only incurs the minute one-time cost of data center operations when a user downloads Spotify. This gross abuse of the App Store monopoly has garnered attention from politicians and business leaders.

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This type of monopolistic abuse harkens back to the robber barons. An infamous robber baron acquired a railroad monopoly and abused it to put farmers out of business. He purchased land from bankrupt farmers at a deep discount. If you want your app to run on any of the billion or so Apple devices, you can only do this through the App Store. Apple can place extreme financial stress on companies like Spotify by charging an exorbitant fee for hosting their app. They have no other way to distribute their app to one billion Apple devices.

Unlike every other device or computer, iPhones, iPads, iPods and Apple TVs cannot side load apps. Apps can only come from Apple’s App Store. Apple has abused this power to the detriment of free market competition and consumer choice. Every time you buy an app or content from Apple, you enable this behavior.

It’s a tough call. I really like Apple’s hardware. I love the way their operating systems are tightly integrated with hardware, for a seamless, tight and robust user experience. This comes at the cost of having only one option for apps. But for other content, you do have a choice.

Don’t be the guy with jeans, a denim shirt, denim cap, denim socks and denim underwear. You can use an iPhone and buy content from Google, Amazon or other vendors. You don’t have to use Apple Music. It’s vastly inferior to competing music subscription services. Get your e-books from Amazon, and you’ll save money and be able to read them on virtually any device.

Just because you bought an iPhone or iPad doesn’t mean you have to default to Apple’s restricted ecosystem or lame stock apps. Get the best of both worlds — excellent Apple devices and superior services from Google, Amazon, Spotify and others.

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