At Apple and Google’s developer conference keynotes last month, both the companies talked about their design and consistency and about improving back-end services. They also talked about new initiatives to make stuff on your phone appear seamlessly on your tablet or laptop.
Google demonstrates a phone call on your Android phone popping up on your Chromebook.
“Users mostly have a smartphone with them, including when they are using a Chromebook,” said Google’s Sundar Pichai. “So, we want to increasingly connect those experiences together, so they have a seamless experience across their devices.”
At or around the time the Android L release comes out this fall, this means your phone and your Chromebook are going to be able to share even more stuff than they already do. If you have your phone with you, it can unlock your Chromebook (and if you have your smartwatch with you, it can unlock your phone). If you get a call or a text or your battery is running low, you’ll be told about it on your Chromebook. Some Android apps are even going to be able to run in Chrome OS, though Google didn’t talk much about the technical details.
Apple demonstrates how an OS X presentation can be opened up on an iPad.
When iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite arrive in the fall, AirDrop will be able to move files between iOS devices and Macs. “Handoff” can send e-mails, webpages, and even files from iCloud-enabled applications on iOS to their counterparts in OS X (or vice-versa). You can receive texts alongside iMessages in the Messages app, and you can make and receive phone calls from your Mac even if your phone is in another room.
This kind of integration is a logical next step for both Apple and Google after years of moving various operating systems and services closer and closer together. This is about ecosystem lock-in. All of these features sound like great, logical ways to extend both companies’ platforms, since you can often assume that someone using an Apple phone will be using an Apple computer. They’re also going to make it harder than ever to extricate yourself from a given company’s ecosystem once you’ve become embedded in it.
Latest in the lock-in wars
The volley in the lock-in wars have become more intense as companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft try to get their software and services on more and more kinds of devices. The first battle grounds were in application and media stores. If you had a bunch of songs from iTunes on your Mac, maybe you’d pick up an iPhone instead of something with Android. On the other hand, if you spent a couple of years amassing apps in Google Play, maybe you’d reach for an Android tablet instead of an iPad.
The war has eventually extended to include services—think iMessage and iCloud versus Hangouts and your Google account; Google Drive versus SkyDrive; Chrome password syncing versus iCloud Keychain. To its credit, Google has made many of its services available to iOS devices through its apps, and Microsoft has been building out iOS and Android support bit-by-bit for the last couple of years. Apple has done nothing to make its services available on other platforms though, and Google refuses to make official apps for its services available to Windows phones and tablets through the Windows Store.
Now, lock-in is being baked into new hardware and software. These new “Continuity”- type features being baked in to the next releases of iOS, OS X, Android, and Chrome are all great news for people who already use multiple devices from the same ecosystem. But if you’ve bought into multiple ecosystems, you’ll never get a chance to use them. You can’t use OS X to make a phone call or receive texts from your Nexus any more than you could use Chrome OS to tell you that you are getting a call on your iPhone. If you actually want to use devices from multiple ecosystems you’ll be missing the boat on all that stuff.
The companies that have conquered smartphones, tablets, and personal computing, the companies are now looking to use their established platforms to launch new ones. Smartwatches seem to be “the ultimate ecosystem lock-in device” in the future. We still haven’t found hardware that we love, but assuming that we do, Android Wear only works with Android phones and tablets. Samsung watches only work with Samsung phones and tablets. The Apple wearable that’s supposedly coming in October will almost certainly support iPhones and iPads exclusively. Many of the most important services (chat, e-mail, social media) are available on multiple platforms. But there’s no work around that will let you use Google’s watch with Apple’s phone.
We are just entering into an era of computing, where working like this is going to deprive you of some real, tangible benefits—you’ll miss out on features that make it more convenient to use all those gadgets you use. You should be able to use the right devices for the moment. For both Apple and Google, this is true… as long as all of your devices are backed by the same company.