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Opinion: Today’s smartphones and tablets aren’t about hardware – it’s about ecosystems

I have friend that has always been swimming in the Apple ecosystem. She has an iPhone, a MacBook Pro and surprise, surprise, an iPad. Her life organized around the apps, tools and software that Apple has provided. As part of her recent bump up the corporate ladder, she was issued an Android phone for her use. To get the same kind of performance from the Android device that she got from her iPhone, she wanted her contacts (from her iPhone) to sync with her Android device. Unfortunately, this being her first experience with an Android device, she failed at that simple task – spectacularly if I might add. It wasn’t because she was a tech airhead – far from it. It’s just that being on Apple’s ecosystem has acclimated her to a different set of rules, and as a result, made using another kind of device from another ecosystem a frustrating experience.

Her experience with Android only highlights something that I’ve actually only recently found out myself – it’s easy to change devices, it’s damn near impossible to change ecosystems, especially if you’re already committed to it. I personally can’t change to iOS even if I wanted to (and believe me, I’ve tried it) – I personally already have 4 Android devices knocking around in my house. My life is organized around Google Calendar which allows me to function with some semblance of efficiency (which is in turn, updated via someone in our office using the same app) and my app investments are substantial (I have 20 plus PAID apps installed in my Sensation XE).

From experience, it’s easy to dismiss a product when there’s not much riding on the line. The Nokia N9 that I reviewed a couple of months ago was a fantastic smartphone by its own right, unfortunately it’s not just hardware that’s sells devices nowadays. Manufacturers that have always wanted to compete with the iPhone with their self anointed “iPhone Killer” phones have always had this mindset that the reason iPhones sold so well was that it had decent hardware. So what do they do? They make devices that had extremely decent hardware which was sometimes leaps and bounds above the specs of the whatever generation iPhone they were tying to compete with, thinking that this was the way to beat it. Imagine their surprise when they were outsold by Apple using relatively inferior hardware. In today’s world, hardware is only one side of the story. Your software and your ecosystem makes up the other side.

So it wasn’t surprising that Apple made their smartphones and tablets to have roughly the same kind of user experience. You don’t have to re-learn anything when you buy an iPhone 4S and then buy an iPad 2 – they both function the same way, and aside from the obvious differences in function, give you the same consistent user experience whether you’re navigating through an iPhone to send a text message or sorting through your iPad 2 to watch a movie.

Which is probably why Google used Ice Cream Sandwich for both smartphones and tablets. A consistent user experience with a robust system in place means that people making the jump from one device to another won’t be at a loss when it comes to navigating and general use. People need to understand that the choice of a smartphone or tablet nowadays doesn’t stop at the manufacturer – it usually means you’ll also have to make a choice which ecosystem you’re throwing your lot with – Google, Android or Microsoft. As for my friend? She’s giving back her phone to the company and is thinking about getting another iPhone instead.