The Ecosystem Advantage

Apple has an ecosystem advantage. There is no denying it. Everyone knows it. But what exactly does it mean? In typical, reductionist fashion, iOS detractors acknowledge the ecosystem advantage,wile dismissing it by describing it as a million fart apps. Is a million apps, fart or otherwise, really the entirety of the ecosystem advantage? This deserves a closer look.


Detractors love to exaggerate the numbers in order to diminish them. Rather than 700,000, the number is stated as a hundred million. A hundred million of anything is incomprehensible. It is a made up number that is offered as a criticism of the real number. It is a way of saying that the number of iOS apps is too big, unimportant, and a liability. The only people who make those sorts of arguments are those who support platforms with smaller numbers. Recently, Google announced that the number of Android apps had tied that of the App Store. Suddenly, numbers mattered. The numbers will matter even more when Google can boast a substantially larger number.

A second part of the criticism is the quality of apps that make up that number. It is not just a hundred million apps, but a hundred million fart apps. This is a way of saying that even though the App Store has a ton of apps, they are all garbage. This argument does not hold up to scrutiny. The App Store has 700,000, well curated apps. It would not surprise me if Apple has not rejected three or four times that number. Google does not curate apps. They take whatever anyone wants to put in their store, and consider themselves lucky to have it. The Android app store is the clearing house for rejected, iOS apps. Frankly, it should be much larger.

Also, there are many more categories of apps available in the Android Market. A popular category is system-level utilities that can replace basic functionality like the keyboard. Another popular category is themes. A theme is a skin that changes the look and feel of the UI. It is very popular to make an Android phone look and feel a lot like an iPhone. Blackberry users do the same thing. Apple does not allow themes. The final category I will mention is pornography. Google welcomes pornography into their marketplace. Apple does not. As I said, Google should have a lot more apps than they do. The argument for quality of useful and innovative apps is heavily skewed in Apple's favor, with little chance of that shifting in the foreseeable future.


The number and quality of applications make up just one aspect of an ecosystem. Services are another important factor to consider. Netflix is not just an app; it's a service. It is a platform unto itself. Hulu+, likewise. Services are, portals for third parties to do business on another platform. iTunes is a conduit for studios to sell music, movies, and TV shows. Apple does not make any of that content. They just provide the infrastructure. The iBooks store is a similar service, as is the Amazon Sony, and Barnes and Noble offerings.

A service does not have to involve content. It could also be access to a bank or financial institution. Card-less payments would also fall into this category. Federal, State, and local governments may also offer services via applications that are platform specific. Just ask WebOS and Blackberry users how it feels to be locked out of popular services. The ecosystem game doesn't matter until you find yourself on the losing end of it. There is no platform more services rich than iOS.


iOS users love to accessorize their devices. The main reason for this is simply because we can. Everyone who has an idea for an accessory, brings it to life for iPhones and iPads. They were doing this long before iDevices became so prevalent. iOS users tend to spend more money than users of other platforms. That is a long-established fact that has not changed over time. Detractors suggest iOS users buy cases because their devices are so fragile. That bit of sophistry, however, does not explain the market for every other kind of accessory. The fact is, iOS users accessorize because they can.

Users of other products can't, at least, not to the same degree as an iOS user. Accessory makers do not make as many accessories for other platforms. There are many reasons for this. One reason is, while there is only one, flagship iPhone at a time, there are several hundred Android phones released at any given time. Obviously, the vast majority of Android devices cannot be targeted for the most popular accessories. For iPhone users, all accessories are available. There is simply no comparison with any other platform.


One more aspect of ecosystem that is often overlooked is interoperability. That is a measure of how devices, software, and services interoperate with one another. All wifi enabled iDevices share data via iCloud. Those devices can also be mirrored on any television connected to an TV. Notes you write on your iPhone can be continued on your iPad, and completed on your Mac without ever saving the document. Take a picture with that excellent camera on the iPhone 5, and edit it in iPhoto on your iPad mini. Start reading an article on your desktop, and continue reading it on the bus from your iDevice of choice. That is interoperability, and it is unmatched by any other platform.

The Ecosystem Advantage

When you see the word, ecosystem, bandied about, it is easy to be lulled into believing that all ecosystems are created equally. "You have apps; we have apps. Therefore, we're the same." This is how the argument goes. Competitors do their best to offer something similar to one of Apple's high-profile offerings, and suggest that they are just like Apple. It is simply untrue. The ecosystem advantage of Apple over their closest competitor is so great, they shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence. Apple's ecosystem advantage is, indeed, enough to make the case for an iDevice over anything else in the marketplace.

That said. I believe that iDevices would be the clear choice apart from the ecosystem advantage. Some acknowledge Apple's ecosystem advantage only to suggest that it is the only reason anyone would choose an iOS device. That is hogwash!. Take away the ecosystem advantage and Apple would still make a superior product with superior build quality and materials, accompanied by superior service and support after the sale. Apple's dominance cannot be reduced to an ecosystem advantage, and simply dismissed.

Apple gained its ecosystem by being preferred by more, ordinary people. The ecosystem followed the success of iDevices. iDevices did not become successful on the coattails of the ecosystem. Apple does not need their staggering ecosystem lead to be successful. But make no mistake about it; they have that lead, and will for a very long time to come.

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