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Ecosystem Comparison: Apple vs Google vs Microsoft

Tech behemoths have been trying to create comprehensive ecosystems for ages. Those that fulfill each and every one of a user’s varied needs. The dream is to make sure users don’t ever feel the need to step out of a given ecosystem. Has anyone succeeded?

Which technology giant has the most comprehensive ecosystem, is a timeless question. The debate has been raging on for years, and it’s a constantly moving target. The only way one can come to some conclusions is by revisiting the question from time to time. But be warned it’s not an easy question to answer. It’s one thing to look at an ecosystem from the inside and a completely different ballgame to evaluate it in comparison to other ecosystems in the market. And there sure are some pretty strong contenders when it comes to that. Google has its own rich ecosystem comparable to Apple’s and Microsoft has been building theirs for ages. And on almost every front, each one of these competitors has something to offer. How well do they do it? Let’s find out.

Productivity

Office Productivity

  • Apple – iWork
    iWorkWhen it comes to features, iWork does take a backseat to Microsoft Office. As compared to Office 365, it does not offer cross platform support that well beyond the Apple Ecosystem. Even within the ecosystem, the experience does vary between macOS, iOS and iCloud. For instance, even though files created with iWork do open on all these platforms, results might not always look the same. And iWork isn’t exactly great at retaining other file formats – although Apple is upfront about this.
    Beyond the ecosystem, the experience is greatly limited. Windows or PC users are limited to using iWork via iCloud at www.icloud.com. When it comes to Android users, there’s no way to use iWork as Chrome, Opera, Firefox and other browsers are not supported. Overall, iWork is a good choice if you’re getting it bundled with your Mac purchase or you are tied into the Apple ecosystem. Beyond that, Microsoft is better at this.
  • Google – Google Docs/G SuiteGoogle Docs
    With Google Drive behind it and Google’s mastery of collaborative document editing, the G Suite offers a comprehensive office productivity solution that can take care of most of your document needs.
    That being said, it is true that the cloud based offering does lack some advanced features that dedicated offline counterparts can offer, even more so at the app level. But for everyday use at an individual level, the G Suite is definitely the most value for money alternative – it’s free!
  • Microsoft – Microsoft Office
    MS OfficeMicrosoft’s Office mostly defined office productivity suites in the offline world. Even though they were lagging behind with their online offering, with Office Online and the subscription based Office 365 they’ve more or less caught up.

Creative Productivity

  • Apple
    If you are a designer, or know a designer, then chances are that you are familiar with the bias towards Macs in that community. And that bias isn’t unfounded. Even with the same software available on Windows and macOS, the latter offers a lot of features and tweaks that take the ease laptopof use to another level. Simple things like drag and drop, system-wide character map, attention to colour management make Macs a leading choice among a certain area of design – specifically, graphics and fashion designing.
  • Microsoft
    When it comes to 3D design applications meant for interior design and architectural work, PC takes the lead with powerful software such as AutoCAD available. The same software is usually available on Mac but as weaker counterparts.
  • Google
    With Google, short of using web apps like Pixlr, which, as any designer would tell you, are a nightmare to use compared to using dedicated software, you really don’t have any options at a desktop level. The upcoming Chromebooks with Android support might be able to remedy this.

Gaming

Desktop

  • Apple
    Gaming on a Mac – that’s not a phrase you hear often. While it is true that most of the older titles do not support the macOS, of late we have seen quite a few macOS compatible titles. Almost 30% of titles on Steam are macOS compatible. Although, that should not get your hopes up as pretty much every recent major AAA game is Windows exclusive for now. So if you’re looking at playing a round of PUBG on your Macbook Pro, you are in for some disappointment….unless you use BootCamp to run Windows on it, which, well, might feel like cheating! On top of that, your hardware options are limited to what Apple offers. For instance, the highest-end Macbook Pro that you can get right now is at around ₹2.3 lakhs and offers nothing close to what a similarly priced Windows laptop would give you.
  • Microsoft
    Thanks to affordable rigs compared to competing ecosystems, combined with the wide variety of titles available on platforms like Steam, Origin and more, it is no surprise that the PC master race exists and thrives on the Windows operating system. Not much explanation needed here.
PC master race
The PC Master Race
  • Google
    With the upcoming Android support on Chromebooks, you can hope to play some Android games on most Chromebooks that support the feature. Anything more than that? Google would like to pass on this one.

Mobile

  • Apple
    This is where Apple’s main focus lies in the world of gaming. And the reason is simple – there are more casual gamers using iPhones and iPads than there are serious high-end gamers who could potentially use a Mac. The overall gaming experience on the iOS platform is actually pretty good.
    Developers prefer making games for iOS because at any given point of time, Apple supports a maximum of 5-6 iOS devices. Testing for those is straightforward task. Also, iOS users are more likely to pay for a game, as much as 33% more, than their Android counterparts.
    Even as a user, you can be assured that you will have the same level of experience across multiple iOS devices that you own. Additionally, due to strict hardware standards, games generally perform better on an average on iOS devices. Apple takes this one hands down.

Mobile games

  • Google
    Even with a rich ecosystem, there are a number of issues with gaming on Android. These issues can range from game availability to security. Overall, go for Android if you are a casual among the casuals of mobile gaming, but if you take your smartphone gaming seriously and want a genuinely bug free, high-quality experience, you are better off with iOS.
  • Microsoft
    It suffices to say that Microsoft is as bad at mobile gaming as it is good at the desktop side of it. There’s barely anything to play that won’t crash or offer a horrible experience as compared to other platforms. Stay away from Windows phone if you are into mobile gaming.

Consoles

Microsoft is the only one among the three that even has a dedicated console that can handle AAA titles. So, clearly it wins. Although Google comes a distant second with its Android TV based offerings.

Smartphone

  • Device
    While Apple smartphone ecosystem is limited to its own phones, Google also allows OEMs to use its Android operating system, making the Android smartphone market much wider, deeper and fragmented at the same time. When it comes to device quality, it is hard to compare an iPhone with any particular Android flagship, although the Google Pixel is positioned as Google’s answer to the iPhone. While individual components and features might work better or worse on either, which one takes the lead really depends on your overall preference for your smartphone ecosystem.

smartphones

  • Operating System
    Comparing smartphone operating systems in-depth isn’t an easy task. Trust us, we know. But there are certain broad parameters that make the decision more straightforward. If you favour customisations and access then Android is the one for you. But on the other hand, if you value an unbroken experience that does not falter at what it does, then an iPhone could be a better deal for you.

Music

  • Apple – Apple Music
    There’s not much difference among the services when it comes to the content on the platforms. Apple Music boasts of 40 million plus songs, and the application apple musicoffers the same ease of use across platforms as is characteristic of the Apple ecosystem. For audio quality, Apple sticks to a standard 256 kbps, but can drop it to 80 kbps on cellular networks. As of now, iCloud Music Library allows you to sync your music between your devices, with the standard free limit of 5GB per account. Compared to Google, Apple does not allow you to play music on multiple devices on the standard membership – although you can do that on a family plan of ₹190, which comes down to a ₹32 per device compared to Google’s ₹8.9 per device.
  • Google – Google Play MusicGoogle Play Music
    Beyond Apple Music’s features, Google also allows you to upload up to 50,000 tracks that you can stream across the Google ecosystem, or practically anything with a web browser. Along with better audio quality overall, Google’s search algorithms and better pricing, Google gets this one with a decent margin, thanks to its features.
  • Microsoft – Groove Music
    Groove Music, although not available in India yet, does offer great cross-platform support and the standard rich library and also supports Groove Musicmusic from OneDrive. With a bad update record, poorer audio quality and the absence of a shared usage plan, we’ll like to skip on this one.

Sync

Seamless transition between devices within an ecosystem can essentially make or break the ecosystem itself. That is the reason why all three of the tech companies we are discussing have put a good amount of energy and effort into that, although we can’t say that the experience is the same for all three.
Apple has maintained iCloud (with your iTunes account and Apple ID) as a universal sync service on its ecosystem for a while now. It is really easy to change devices within the ecosystem. On the other hand, Google’s account based data synchronisation is also more or less a similar offering, although the experience might depend on which device you are using (since Google does include multiple OEMs across its ecosystem). Microsoft, due to the lack of multiple services offered by competitors like Photos from Google, doesn’t measure up in the sync-game. On the other hand, it does restrict you in certain ways. This can be a pain to use if you’re trying to move out of the Windows Phone ecosystem – which you should.

Virtual Assistant (VA)Siri

  • Apple – Siri
    While Siri can now understand most standard queries, it can now also perform actions using many third party apps – which is big move from Apple. Along with a personality, Siri offers minor additional features every now and then that keeps Apple loyalists hooked to this popular smart assistant.
  • Microsoft – Cortana Microsoft Cortana
    Based on data gathered across the current Microsoft ecosystem, Cortana can suggest contextual information when and where relevant (Yes, the Xbox too). Although it doesn’t have significant IoT capabilities right now, that might change in the near future.
  • Google – Assistant
    With a function over form approach, and backed by Google’s treasure trove of data, Google’s VA is a serious Google Assistantcontender. It is available on Android and iOS devices which includes wearables and TVs as well. There is a reason why almost all such comparisons have shown Google Assistant taking the lead over the other two, even though Cortana comes almost at par in terms of features.

Automobile software

As you’ve probably gathered from the previous chapter, we’ve pretty much declared Android Auto miles ahead of Apple’s CarPlay. Apple Maps is one of the main reasons, the other being a slightly more optimised UI. Go back a few pages for a more detailed explanation.

TV

  • Apple – Apple TV
    The design and user experience will seem familiar to Apple loyalists who are used to the sleek, stylish experience on other devices too. That being said, the experience is a bit too Apple centric. So if you own an Android or a Windows device, your life won’t exactly be easy with the Apple TV. Additionally, apps and games aren’t always available immediately but they do sync with your iPhone when they are. But another area where this earns bonus points is that it’s hooked onto your HomeKit enabled devices as well, so you can control your smarthome right from your Apple TV. Good job Apple!

Apple TV

  • Google – Android TV
    With Android TV, Google has provided its software for many manufacturers to use on their smart TVs. With the likes of NVIDIA Shield available on one side and an average TV on another, the experience, especially on games, can vary even with ample availability of apps. It would have been even better if the voice search functionality with Google Assistant could also be used to navigate within videos and content, like it can be done with Siri on Apple TV.
  • Microsoft – Xbox?
    As of now, the Xbox is what comes closest to being Microsoft’s dedicated TV solution. While it does offer a decent number of apps and services (Netflix, Crunchyroll, Skype, Twitch, YouTube and more) it is not nearly as rich an ecosystem as its competitors.

Payments

  • Apple – Apple Payapple pay
    When it comes to payments, there’s little that differentiates the technology between Apple and Google. Both use virtual cards to keep your details safe. Both of them have a ton of banks and stores on-board. Apple does have a more restrictive environment though. For instance, it will only work on Apple devices and wearables. On the phone front, it will only work with iPhone 6 and onwards since previous models didn’t have the NFC chip on them.
  • Google – Android Payandroid pay
    Google evolved its Google Wallet offering to what is Android Pay today. Any Android device with NFC and at least Android Kitkat can use Android Pay. In fact, Wear 2.0 is going to be more iOS friendly and it will support Android Pay. Google takes this one for the inclusivity and flexibility.
  • Microsoft – Microsoft Wallet
    Yes, Microsoft does have a payment solution too for its smartphones. But with the Windows Phone almost dead, is it even valid to consider it as an option?

Microsoft wallet

Developer friendliness

All tech ecosystems thrive on a vibrant and active developer community building stuff for the ecosystem. When it comes to Apple, Google and Microsoft, there are multiple factors that play into the choice if you’re a developer. To start off, the technology stack on Apple and Microsoft have offered some of the leanest and easy to use languages from the beginning, with Java based Android catching up over time. There are also a couple of added incentives in developing for Apple. First, you do not need to worry about more than a few devices at a point of time. Additionally, iOS users and Apple customers are more likely to pay for applications as compared to people on the Google and the Microsoft ecosystem. This is because free alternatives are available in the Google ecosystem and piracy is easy in the Microsoft one. This one goes to Apple.

Wearables

  • Apple – Apple Watch and watchOS4
    Once again – the restriction game. The Apple Watch only works with the iPhone as of now, so if you have any other smartphone or plan to buy one, your choice is pretty much made for you already. But just in case, you are an iPhone owner, you do have certain options in terms of design between its multiple models in the form of band and case material. With the recently announced GymKit, Apple Watch owners can now also sync data with gym equipment. Overall, the experience on the Apple Watch is better if you stick to the Apple ecosystem.

apple watch

  • Google – Android Wear 2.0
    Google brings in diversity in the form of multiple manufacturers making smartwatches powered by Wear, and now Wear 2.0. You even have some standalone options that are not available for the Apple ecosystem. Additionally, Android Wear watches get their own Play Store, music library along with other standard functionalities. Of course, you also get cheaper options compared to the Apple Watch.
  • Microsoft – Unnamed smartwatch
    After Microsoft officially cancelled the Band 3 earlier this year, things haven’t looked great for the wearable department over there. But an unnamed smartwatch is on the way soon and little is known about it other than it being business focussed.

Security

We don’t need to go down to individual ecosystems on this one. The Microsoft ecosystem, with the Windows platform in it, easily faces the largest number of attacks for the maximum gain possible. As a result, statistical analysis points to Microsoft being weak in terms of security. Similarly, due to the large number of Android devices out there, combined with the not-so-stringent Play Store policies, Google also faces a lot of security issues in the form of malware and dangerous apps. Apple, on the other hand, takes security as a primary requirement in its development process and also does not face as many attacks as its competitors due to fewer devices being out there in the market at a given time.

Home automation

  • Apple – Homepodapple homePod
    Until very recently, Apple did not have a dedicated device in the home automation segment. The Homepod is not out yet, although some of its specifications are known. It is being pitched first as a quality speaker, although it is compatible with all of Apple Homekit supported devices (which could be controlled by any of your Apple devices before this). Once again, Apple’s specific requirements for devices to be HomeKit compatible might have turned out to be a problem for smaller developers. While little is known about the actual device yet, it is not hard to tell that it has a lot of catching up to do.
  • Google – Google Home Google Home
    Google launched its home smart speakers by positioning them as entertainment hubs but over time they have learnt a lot of new stuff to become a solid alternative to Amazon’s Alexa, which currently leads the smart home speaker market. With Google’s Home it is definitely easier to control content on multiple devices as long as they are Chromecast enabled. Additionally, you can also train the Home speaker to recognise voices of different family members.
  • Microsoft – Harman Kardon Invokesmart speakers
    Unlike the others, Microsoft is not manufacturing its own smart speaker but actually going ahead with Cortana on a Harman Kardon-make speaker named Invoke. Little is known about the device and whatever is out, indicates that it’s going to be pretty similar to Amazon’s Echo. Also, no pricing details are expected until the Fall 2017 launch.

That’s all folks…

And with that we are done. It is practically an impossible task to figure out a clear winner from all these comparisons, although we might just try to do that in the near future with a more detailed test process. As of now, it is evident that Apple’s entire ecosystem is built around strict quality control and standards, even if that leads to less content on their platform. In fact this has played to their advantage with developers preferring Apple for this very reason, and loyalists sticking with Apple for the quality it offers. That being said, it wouldn’t exactly be right to say that they are perfect. They are quite far from that. As any Android user would tell you, the Apple ecosystem preaches the lack of customisability within it as a design benefit. Basic features that have existed on Android for ages have sometimes taken ages to show up on iOS. For geeks and enthusiasts that does bode well. It’s the very reason why people looking to play around with their devices and experiment with applications and hardware stay away from the Apple ecosystem. Now, it is up to you to decide what exactly you want from the Apple ecosystem.

 


This article was first published in the September 2017 issue of Fast Track which is a supplement of Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

Arnab Mukherjee

Arnab Mukherjee