Why is an Eco-System important for User Experience?

Every couple of years I end up upgrading my phone (this year its the Apple’s iPhone 6). Often is the case that I have upgraded my phone in the store and for some god forsaken reason the store representatives would open the box and turn on the phone and set it up for me.

With an Android phone you have to be extremely careful with these store representatives.  They go through the setup wizard for you where many of the carrier services are enabled, which you have no idea about them.

This part of the upgrade I don’t like.  It just infuriates me.   Being a product designer, I like going through the complete experience - Opening the box to going through every detail until the battery warns me at the 20% mark. This is definitely a couple of hours.  Mind you these details are nothing but the same setup as my previous phone, but an upgrade would mean a chance to clean up my phone.  Remove the apps that I don’t want and set up, re-arrange the ones that “I think” I will use regularly.

This year was no different except for 3 details.

  1. I ordered my phone online and it was delivered to my doorstep on a Saturday morning for me to go over every single detail in peace.   
  2. It so happened that both me and my wife were up for an upgrade - so this time not one but two phones were being set up, at almost the same time.
  3. The most important detail - I spent about 3 hours setting up my phone before I retired; compared to my wife who was up and running in about 20 odd minutes. 

What the...!?

The reason I spend a long time setting up my phone is because I am going through all possible detail that I can lay my fingertip/thumb on.  This allows me to see if any defaults have changed, since with almost every upgrade comes a new OS (these days).  I check if there has been any major changes in the design patterns or any new entires in Settings.  Yes I do restore my phone from iCloud, so my data is there; intact with the “Others” section completely gone; however I still have to go and log into every single app that I use on my phone.  Many apps have integrated Facebook/Twitter login - so once I have logged into these applications in my settings, most of my apps are up and running (but not many).  Now with competition building up I have to enter my password about 5 - 6 times at least before all my apps are running.  

The iPhone comes with a bunch of apps however some of them I seldom use.  Some of the apps that I have replaced:

  1. iCloud; this does the restore as well; well I can’t really replace this but I do use other cloud services for a lot of other things.
  2. Mailbox has replaced my default mail - requires Dropbox login. 
  3. After a very long time I have gotten back to using my native Calendar app; however until then I had been using Fantastical Calendar.  The sad part is I did restore my data from iCloud and this does restore my calendars that I’m using on my Mac; however I have to login to each online account (Gmail, Work) to set up my other calendars.  
  4. Evernote; One Note and now Vesper replaces my notes application.  All of these requires a login.
  5. Wunderlist for reminders app - It requires me to login (although I have been thinking of moving back to the native Reminders app)
  6. Spotify & Pandora for music - requires login.
  7. Dropbox (for documents) & OneDrive (for pictures & videos) - requires login.  Although once I have logged into Dropbox, Mailbox just works.  But OneDrive does require login.
  8. YouTube - Well I have to use at least one Google service, which then logs me into every single google service.  
  9. Overcast replaces my podcast application - requires login.
  10. I use Manual for iPhone to replace my camera, however this does not require a login.  Its one of the best application that is seamlessly integrated with the photos app.  However, VSCO cam requires me to login.

Apart from this there are also a list of other applications requires me to login or at least use the Facebook/Twitter integration.  This is again about 5-6 application that require a separate login.  There are also many other apps that do require me to login, however I leave it until I have to use it.  Because by now I am completely exhausted going back and forth between 1Password and individual apps, copy-pasting my password.  Thank you “Touch ID”.

There it does take a few hours to set up my digital eco-system and ensure everything is in sync and harmony and I can enjoy my services and have information at my fingertips (almost every time).

In stark contrast, my wife is a true Apple Eco-system user.  All she does is enters her iCloud password when she is setting up her phone.  After the initial restore, she enters password for Gmail (that sets up her Google account) and Facebook and she is ready to use her phone.  

It took her 3 passwords (at most).

She has more apps compared to me, however most of the services she uses are integrated with Facebook or Google. She does not go through the ordeal of setting up different cloud services to do different things.  

This is when I realized - there aren’t many users like me.  However there is a huge population of users just like my wife.

Which eco-system is good?

There is a reason why I did not say which eco-system today is the best.  When talking about Eco-systems, three of them come to my mind: Apple, Google and Microsoft. 

Microsoft has a good enough eco-system if you are using a Microsoft Windows phone, but considering their market share, I would concentrate on the remaining two eco-systems that I have used; Apple and Google.

When Tim Cook was interviewed by Charlie Rose, there was a reason why Tim Cook mentioned Google as their arch-rival leaving out Samsung completely (Samsung’s last 3 quarters tells us a decent enough story). 

Google dominates almost every Hardware out there including Apple products.  Google’s Android is a smartphone OS, however that trend is changing and almost everything that connects to the internet and has an interaction runs a fork of Android - TV’s, Watches, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, Home appliances specially after Google acquired Nest. 

Apple on the other hand continues to distant itself from Android.  A few years back, people said Android would crush iOS and that profits, apps, revenue and consumer would all go to Android.  Well there are more and more apps today that are iOS first and very soon moving towards iOS only.

Apple has been slow in catching up with features to match Android and there is a reason for this.  All these years they have been concentrating on building that eco-system. The more features Apple introduces fits in seamlessly with their eco-system.  Touch ID is a great example; I already have started hating my iPad Air. One of the ways an eco-system progresses is when developers can sell software and make money.  Without an ecosystem, the platform stops evolving rapidly - we learnt this from the Mac/PC war and now its very evident from the apps that we see on iPhone compared to Android.  The problem with Android isn’t market share, heck they have 80% of the market share; however Android first or Android only is still not a thing and is by far from being a reality.  Fragmentation takes a toll on Android today.  It used to be that anyone could fork Android and built their own stuff, however Google off late is making Android more exciting by putting stuff on Android; new features, new design, new interaction paradigm to take care of non-smartphone devices to name a few. They are now more serious about building that eco-system then ever.

Lets talk about mobile payment. Apple pay is years ahead of Google in every regard.  Sure Google was the first that came out with mobile payments, but it never took off.  I don’t remember anyone telling me or explaining me their experience with Google wallet, but with Apple Pay, I hear a story almost every day and its about a month old today. The potential of Apple Pay is mind-boggling. With Touch ID integrated, I can already imagine withdrawing cash (if required) from ATM’s or using it on Subways on my daily commute. 

NFC came to Android phones about 3 years back, but I haven’t seen a practical use case yet. Samsung implemented a feature where you could tap your phone with HomeSync and it would connect HomeSync with the same WiFi network.  Well HomeSync never took off and the ones that were out there, no one knew you could tap to connect WiFi.  Most users just took the traditional route of entering their WiFi passwords after connecting their phones to the device.

Android has everything that iOS has to offer; maybe even more; however the user experience isn’t.  

With iBeacons apple created a whole new market. Now the moment I am close to a Starbucks or near a movie theatre I get relevant app short cuts on my lock screen.  I won’t say its 100% accurate, but it works 9 out of 10 times.  The one odd time, I would want to use a different app, but its pretty accurate with the options. So instead of relying on my GPS and WiFi that drain battery, iBecons shows me intelligent shortcuts on my lock screen. Bluetooth LE, iBeacon, NFC - these short range technologies integrated in devices and ecosystem allow us to connect with the nearby world. 

Wearables - weather you like it or not; the next 5 years you would have an array of wearable options to choose from.  The smartphone war is definitely bringing new platforms to the market which will impact Apple’s and Google’s evolution.  Right now they use smartphone as a medium, very soon they would be their own standalone system which will certainly have its own space in the much larger Ecosystem that these companies are building. 

Ecosystem is not only about how devices are integrated with each other or how well they communicate with each other.  Personal preferences and how users interact with their devices is also part of it.  This could be data that you exchange or the data that you consume using these devices.  Google already knows who you are and to a certain extent they have a pretty good idea what your preferences are. How these personal preferences blend into the ecosystem is important.  Introducing a new gadget or discarding a gadget from this ecosystem should not affect me as a the user.  In fact this would basically give Google and Apple a very good idea of what new devices to introduce and what older devices to discard.