Locked in.

One of my favorite things about the changes to OS X and iOS is the interoperability between the platforms. This will only be increased as OS X moves to Mountain Lion, with tighter links between the devices joined with iCloud as it becomes more robust. On top of this, the iTunes App Store is an unbeatable location for software downloads, and barring jailbreak, your one-stop shop for your iOS devices.

The strongest guiding factor in how I chose a mobile platform in the past (dating way back to the early-mid-2000s) was the availability of software for my device. I began on Windows Mobile, because at the time, they seemed more exciting than their Palm counterparts. WM had a ton of software, but installing it wasn’t elegant or particularly easy. The devices were middling at best, and required some serious hacking to even be usable. After that, I moved quickly through BlackBerries in a six-month tryst. I didn’t purchase the original iPhone because the idea of not being able to install apps was just unacceptable to me. But when the App Store launched, it made something I’d been doing laboriously for years exquisitely easy. I landed on the iPhone 3G shortly after it launched, and never looked back.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve looked back lots of times. With Android, with webOS, with Windows Phone. I continue to look back whenever something catches my attention. That’s how I am. Something’s different now, though, and I’ve only recently been able to identify what that is. The idea of a platform lock in based on software purchases is not a new one; it’s happened on desktops for years. If you put a good deal of money into a platform, it’s hard to pull away from it when something new comes along. Psychologically, you attempt to add value to the decision based on the money you’ve already spent that is irretrievable. We know this as the sunk-cost effect.

However, I’ve discovered something far more compelling than a financial imperative to stay with a particular phone/platform. It’s something that isn’t as easily quantifiable, and can’t be assessed in a rational way as easily because there is an innate emotional component that ties directly to how I feel in the course of a given day. At its simplest, it’s my time, but that time is based and built upon complex workflows that I’ve refined over the course of years. Years spent on one platform (iOS) and strengthened by the addition of fantastic products and services that enable me to work more efficiently from wherever I am. I take great pleasure in discovering new apps that allow me to do things more smoothly or that add value to an activity in which I’m already engaged. That pleasure (and time-saving) translates directly to my dopamine receptors in some nerdy way, because I enjoy this stuff in a way that most people don’t, and can’t even understand. It’s a pure love of great software, but compounded with the benefits of enhancing (at least that’s what I tell myself) my daily life.

Sure, there are some apps that appear on many platforms. I live in Dropbox, and I can get it almost everywhere. There are plain text editors for every phone, I’m sure. I can scan documents with my phone and sync them as PDFs with a lot of different apps. But this isn’t always the case, and sometimes even though an app may appear on other platforms, it’s not as useful because to the developers it may be an afterthought since iOS is the main platform for which they build. More importantly though is not that I can get apps everywhere, but that I find myself unwilling to trade off to inferior versions of these apps or add steps to the processes that I can perform more easily on iOS. When I find a really great way to do something, I want to stick with it. I don’t want to spend time figuring out a new way to do something that probably isn’t as good as the way I’ve been doing it. And those words “spend” and “time” are more salient to me than any amount of money I can spend on software. I can always make more money; I’ll never get back my time – or at the very least, the perception of time.

The problem I’m facing as a lifelong lover of technology is that my excitement for new devices is still there, but slightly diminished because immediately after I feel the thrill of seeing something cool, there’s a part of me, however deep in my subconscious that surfaces a thought: “this is great, but it’s not going to fit”. It sounds dumb. Why can’t I just enjoy things? What’s my problem? As our devices become more interconnected, I dont see as much value in having any that aren’t. And as more manufacturers chase the idea that people are going to own all of their individual devices (as I do with Apple gear), it’s getting harder and harder to get the most out of things when they exist outside of your workflows.

I used to switch phones with what could only be described as alarming frequency. The only constants were that I’d enter my IMAP settings, add a few phone numbers, and that was mostly it. No platform interconnection, no syncing over the air, no compelling apps I simply couldn’t live without. Because they just didn’t exist. In the years since I’ve adopted iOS, I’ve created stores of application data, some of which I rely on heavily both personally and for business, and some of these can only be used within iOS and in some cases with a Mac. It’s not enough for me to try other platforms – I really can’t leave until I see a path on which to travel. For now, I’m locked in. Quite frankly, it’s a good problem to have.

Author: Seth Clifford

I'm here for the open bar.