Every phone maker aspires to have a walled garden as beautiful as Apple’s

Every phone maker aspires to have a walled garden as beautiful as Apple's

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  • Boxes for an Apple Watch, iPhones, and Airpods sit on a desk.
    Saad Chaudhry/Unsplash. Apple has long kept people closely tied to its ecosystem of products. Those who own one Apple product are often drawn to buy more. The harmony with which products work with each other is (primarily) what fuels this obsession. Even though Apple products are not flawless, the general notion is that they are great at what they are supposed to do — and that perception contributes to Apple’s success. Statista notes that Apple was the world’s top-most technology company in terms of its market value in 2021.

  • Apple will offer us a peek of what the next generations of iOS, MacOS, watchOS, and tvOS will bring to its enviably stable ecosystem during its annual developer conference, WWDC 2022. Others, on the other hand, compare the ecosystem to a walled garden, with attractive but carnivorous plants that provide a pleasant entrance but a difficult and frustrating exit. Some, though, are peering over those barriers with envious eyes. How did Apple create such an enticingly sticky ecosystem, and why are others so eager to copy it?

But it’s not because of the devices alone that Apple’s ecosystem thrives. Apple’s operating systems and its suite of applications are intended to be exclusive to Apple devices — a strategy it has always maintained, but especially since Steve Jobs’s return to the company. But while this exclusivity grants Apple owners bragging rights in front of others, it also compels them to stay confined within the proverbial walls of its glamorous garden.

For example, Apple devices feature Handoff, which allows multiple actions between devices, and AirDrop lets you quickly share documents and files between Apple devices, while tools such as Sidecar and Universal Control allow seamlessly integrated use of your Mac and iPad. Even Apple’s iMessage locks people in by displaying messages sent from outside the Apple ecosystem in green, while those from Apple devices show up in blue. It has led to the system being called discriminatory towards non-Apple users.

Apple’s methodology has always been to lock you into the ecosystem. In today’s setting, escaping the hardware is easier but transitioning from a familiar software tool to another can cause headaches. Apple keeps its garden walls high, and by maintaining superior hardware quality and compelling people to purchase subscriptions to its services, scaling the walls becomes a herculean task. It’s not always an overtly obvious lock-in either, it’s the way many features “just work” together that’s equally as effective.

Besides controlling individual apps, Apple rigorously controls how you install them. Apple inherently opposes sideloading apps on iPhone and iPad citing security concerns. The Samsung Odyssey Neo G8 is now open for reservations ahead of its June 6 availability. Despite its negative connotation and criticism for locking users in, a lot of competing consumer technology brands envision having the same success as Apple, and continue to build similarly restrictive ecosystems. The end goal is simple: the more consumers tied to your products, the more products and services you sell, and of course, the more money you make.

To succeed, these companies adopt a similar strategy to lock consumers into an ecosystem, usually aping the Apple ecosystem by building products for potentially every use case. Brands such as Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo, OnePlus, and even Google field competitors in the same categories as Apple, from phones, tablets, and laptops, to wearables, audio products, TVs, and even smart home products. All are designed to work with each other, enhancing the consumer experience and encouraging sales.

Smartphones from these brands also come with a pre-installed proprietary app store, which cannot be disabled or uninstalled, and every phone comes with a unique set of proprietary system apps — such as clock, camera, file manager, gallery, along with cloud services for music, storage, and more. All these are designed not only to provide a modicum of identity, but also in the case of app stores, music stores, and cloud services, to keep you coming back in the future.

But there is sometimes a lack of distinction between all these products, and it’s something Apple sidesteps very well. Apple has designated roles for its products — be it the iPhone, the iPad, Mac, Watch, or TV — so it adds distinct value to the ecosystem and does not try to override the role of another. An iPad does not try to be an iPhone, nor does it encroach too far into the territory of a MacBook. An Apple Watch is designed to augment the utility of an iPhone instead of being a substitute.

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