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Article: Redesigning the Ecosystem

by on September 7, 2010

I’m the type of person who likes it when things work as they should. I think this is why I generally gravitate towards simpler, less powerful, but more well-behaved solutions when it comes to electronics. I understand the tradeoffs of not building my own computer, having a “closed” phone, or having a store-bought router over using an old computer. I have a background in media design and information technology, yet I still would rather not tinker.

Some people in the computer industry see having to get certain things to work as a badge of honor, proving that they know what they are doing. I know my way around most products and could take those routes if I wanted to, but I don’t and I think this is the problem Apple is having with adoption of certain technologies, and more importantly what the iPod/iPhone killers out there seem to be missing.

Ever since the iPod took off, every company that could started offering an “iPod killer” that didn’t use the iTunes Store, had some random feature that the iPod didn’t, or was cheaper. They never caught on for one reason—the iPod received the reputation of being simple, yet powerful enough for what people wanted. Lots of hard drive space, compatibility with your own MP3s or purchased AAC files, and an easy-to-understand interface made the iPod a winner. Hand anyone an iPod and they could figure out the basic idea in a matter of minutes. Syncing with iTunes was easy, especially once they got the hang of how iTunes organized things.

The iPhone continued this simplicity, creating a touchscreen smartphone that was simple enough, yet offered web browsing that was actually tolerable. Instantly devices like the BlackBerry and Treo looked obsolete, although some Windows Mobile purists were not so sure about the lack of a stylus and lack of anything but web applications.

Three years later, the iPhone has exploded into a huge hit, along with its slightly neutered, more accessible (no contract) iPod touch. Every week we see some sort of new Android-based iPhone killer, yet they’re not running away with anything. The Android OS is pretty good, offers more features for tinkerers, yet just isn’t catching on for some, especially those with AT&T. The problem is marketing and usability. The iPhone (from a software and hardware perspective) is designed to be simple, easy-to-understand, yet the Android-based devices are a bit more complex for the sake of “power”, yet those are features the average user would not care about.

I’m not trying to start an iPhone vs. Android argument, but more specifically some advice for those who want to see it succeed—make a slick synchronization engine. The various Google web services are good, but I’d rather my phone do more than appear as a flash drive when I connect it to my computer.

I think this is where the bigger philosophy between Apple and Google differs—Apple wants all of your content on your computer, preferably a Mac, while Google wants it to live online. Apple wouldn’t mind offering you content over the Internet, but does not prevent you from adding your own content. I’m not really sure if I’m a fan of either. For work, I have an Exchange account that syncs across my two computers and my iPhone and I love its cloud-based design, but I still like the synchronize my own personal information through the Dock Connector.

As for other content, synchronizing via Wi-Fi on my iPhone would be nice, but I’m still a fan of having everything on my computer, especially if I’m going somewhere where I do not know if there is an Internet connection. I’ll probably get an Apple TV in October, yet won’t be renting any content from Apple. Instead, my vintage G4 Mac mini will become a media server, so that I can have a permanent place for all of my content and pull it on both my MacBook Pro and my TV.

Some criticize the App Store on iTunes for its arguably poor feedback in the approval process, closed model, and pricing structure. Personally, I think it works well—developers make a decent amount of money, and if there is a good app that I want to buy, I generally find it worth my money. The process is simple to understand, use, and there is a level of trust, since everything goes through Apple.

I know one could argue features or capabilities, but I’ve almost become the jaded I.T. guy because I’d rather have something that works seamlessly and doesn’t require tinkering. The average user has even less of a tolerance for figuring things out, and that’s what Google, Microsoft, and the others have to learn.

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