The world, or at least America, is a kinda messed up place right now so I’m going to write about tech. Forgive me for turning a blind eye to the insanity that surrounds us.
I want to talk about tech ecosystems because they frustrate the heck out of me. I’m a bit of a loyalist and like to think that I’m pretty monogamous and that translates to my tech sensibilities as well.
I would love nothing more than to just be an Apple man. Or just be a Google man. Or just be a Microsoft man. Or – in some strange alternate universe, just a Linux man. For YEARS I’ve tried to make this dream a reality.
I got pretty close to living entirely in Apple’s ecosystem exclusively. But Troy and I use our own domain name for email and aren’t interested in using an @ icloud.com email address. So just with that requirement we have to use another service to register our domain (Google Domains) and host our email (O365) because Apple doesn’t have their Server app doing email anymore and that vanity domain has to be hosted SOMEWHERE. Also that means the iCloud mail function is out of the picture. This really is just the tip of the iceberg for Apple but really if they could let us host bring-your-own-domain email I could probably make it work. Alas that doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon.
Apple is out.
So email is on O365. That means naturally I’d look to Microsoft to be the tech ecosystem we live in then, right? Nope. Microsoft doesn’t offer a mobile OS anymore. There are other limitations to Microsoft as well: they don’t have a music or photos service, for example.
Microsoft is out.
So there’s Google. I’m mostly OK with Google, despite everyone having privacy concerns but even then you run into some limitations. For example: both the old and new versions of Google Play Music were/are horrible. Also, Troy is emphatic that he MUST have Word, Excel, Outlook, etc so even if we went all Google there would be Microsoft components and cost. Troy also REFUSES to use Android. Hates it. I finally got him to try it because he fell in love with the idea of the Microsoft Surface Duo. So we got 2 and within a day his had 1 of 2 screens go bad. That experiment was over – back to iPhones. Maye we’ll reconsider when the 2nd generation Duo comes out.
Google is out.
For about the past 10 years I’ve lived in a perpetual state of HELL trying so very hard to try to find a way to stick with just one of the big three ecosystems. Many times I thought I had come close with Apple and if I was single I might have made a stubborn go of it.
So now in 2021 I’ve changed my way of thinking. The phrase that pays in 2021 is “ecosystem agnostic”. I’ve decided to take bits and pieces of all 3 major ecosystems (and some 3rd party services too) and go for non-hardware-dependent available-from-any-browser use-any-phone-or-computer diversity acceptance. After all I do believe our diversity makes us stronger.
So, broken down by function here is how I’m livin’ in 2021. One note: I chose to have an O365 and Google Workspace subscription but most of that is really optional. Almost all of this can be accomplished with the free iCloud, Microsoft, and Gmail accounts. The goal of each of these choices is to find the most agnostic (use anywhere) option.
Artificial Intelligence or Assistants
The winner: Google Assistant
It really came down to Google Assistant and Siri. Cortana was a nice try by Microsoft but didn’t quite cut it. I chose Google Assistant (using my free Gmail account) because we also use Google Home and it just works well together. Also the results from Google Assistant are better than Siri. Sorry, Siri. Also Google Assistant isn’t dependent on Google devices. Agnostic for the win!
The options: limitless, really. McAfee, Sophos, Norton, you name it.
The winner: Cylance Smart Antivirus (consumer version of CylancePROTECT)
When a previous company I may or may not have worked for may or may not have got hit by ransomware I saw how Cylance worked post-attack to help right the ship. I was impressed. So impressed I bought stock in their parent company, Blackberry (full disclosure). Cylance works with both Windows and macOS but when macOS comes out with new versions (Big Sur, for example) the app just stops working and you have to wait a month or more before a new compatible version comes out. We still don’t have a version for Big Sur, BTW.
The winner: Microsoft Authenticator
This one is really a tossup. I went with Microsoft Authenticator only because I use O365 and the integration seems good. Just about any application or service worth a crap uses an authenticator code for MFA. Got to have this one.
The winner: Apple CarPlay
Our Jeep Wrangler has far more bells and whistles than I’d ever in a million years expect a Wrangler to have. My first Wrangler didn’t even have power windows and now the current one has that and more including cell phone integration. I went with CarPlay honestly only because Android Auto is just so damn ugly.
The options: browser based or 3rd party
The winner: 3rd Party (Raindrop.io)
I would normally say bookmarks go with the browser you’re using but I’m really tired of that game so I researched all my options and found a 3rd party app called Raindrop.io. Raindrop also has browser plugins as well as mobile plugins. I’ve really been impressed even with the free plan.
The winner: Apple Books
I’m not a big reader, outside of Twitter. I know – that makes me part of the problem. But every so often someone comes out with a book I want to buy if only to show support. Since I’m also going with iTunes for music and movies (spoiler) this seems only logical. I’m sure Google Books is also good and even better is also more cross-platform friendly.
The winner: Google Chrome
Again Apple locks their product into their hardware. Can’t use Safari on my Windows computer or Android phone so that one’s out. I need a browser that I can sign-in on which takes Firefox out. So between Chrome and Edge – both variants of Chrome anyway – I went with the one with more experience, Chrome. It really comes down to whether you want to sync your settings with your Google account (Chrome) or your Microsoft account (Edge).
The winner: Yes.
I actually found a great service called SyncGene that can keep calendars and contacts in sync between iCloud, Google, and Outlook. This includes Google Workspace and O365 accounts. I use whatever calendar is most handy – they all have the same info because they’re sync’d. I do sometimes use the Outlook calendar if I’m trying to setup a Teams meeting or the Google Calendar if I’m setting up a Meet meeting since they have the appropriate plugins.
The options: plenty
The winner: Google Nest
Our house is like Fort Knox. We’re 2 gay guys living in Texas. Let me just say: don’t even try. The security cameras, which are everywhere, would be the least deadly thing you encounter. That being said the requirements here were to have off-site recording and integrate well with Google Home. Nest is the obvious choice. We also love the Nest Hubs and those have built-in Nest cameras as well.
The winner: yes.
Same as calendar – my contacts stay in sync with SyncGene. I use whatever app is most handy at any given moment.
The options: Microsoft Access
The winner: um… Microsoft Access
Sometimes you just need a dumb local database to do some data cleanup. Since I already have a Microsoft M365 E5 license might as well use it.
The winner: Microsoft Word
Microsoft put a lot of effort into making their Office apps available cross-platform. Word is great on my Windows computers but also on my MacBook and even mobile.
The options: Google Workspace or Microsoft O365
The winner: Microsoft O365
Troy likes the Outlook web interface and since we both use the same vanity domain where he goes so go I. Honestly Google Workspaces would be just as good. If you aren’t using a vanity (personalized) domain for email you really could use anything – you just have to decide if you want a gmail, icloud, outlook, or <gasp> yahoo email address. In which case it really may come down to your preferred interface and whether you want to put up with ads.
The winner: Apple Fitness+
We have the family plan for Apple One and that includes Apple Fitness+ and we use the Apple Watches so… this just makes sense.
The winner: Google Home
Home by far has the most interoperability with other 3rd party devices and with all the Google Nest Hubs in the house it just makes sense. Also – it just works and it doesn’t try to get me to buy stuff from Amazon. The mobile app also works just fine on iOS, iPadOS, and Android.
The winner: Google Maps
We have a house that’s almost a year old now and it still doesn’t show up on Apple Maps or Google Maps but it finally has shown up on Bing Maps. I guess I shouldn’t poke too much fun at them. I went with Google Maps because, despite much effort, Apple Maps just isn’t completely there yet and you can’t get Apple Maps on devices not made by Apple.
The options: various
The winner: Verizon
I’m actually a big fan of Google Fi but they ride on T-Mobile and Sprint networks both of which have essentially no service where we live, just 30 miles outside Houston (the 4th largest city in America). Verizon is a necessary evil if we want cell service.
Music and Movies
The winner: Apple Music
I thought Google was going to eventually do a great job with Google Play Music which is now YouTube Music but quite frankly it’s horrible. Apple Music is also included in our Apple One subscription AND has an Android app! There’s even a website for Apple Music so I can listen on my PC. Admittedly we do use YouTube Music on our Nest Hubs when we just want some background music in the house and it does a great job at that.
The winner: Google News
Even though Apple News+ is included in my Apple One subscription I decided this isn’t the winner for one reason: ads! Why am I getting served ads on a subscription product? Google News seems to do a good job with curating news and quite frankly I found the magazine subscriptions in Apple News+ useless to me. Also – Apple News+ is tied to just Apple hardware. Microsoft News? Please forgive me if I laugh. Finally, on Android devices when I scroll all the way to the left I get a nice Google News recap there and I like that.
The winner: Microsoft OneNote
I really like Apple Notes and I’m glad to see them making progress but once again – not available on PC (unless you want to deal with the clunky iCloud website) and for sure not available on Android or ChromeOS. Again, Microsoft takes the win here because OneNote has apps on every platform and can even be accessed from the web browser.
The winner: ALL OF THEM!!
This is the point of all of this. Some days I feel like using my MacBook Pro because I love the feel of cold hard steel against my bare thighs. Most days I’m on my Windows gaming PC with it’s HUGE curved monitor. When I’m on the couch I flip between my iPhone, Google Pixel, iPad Pro, Chromebook, and Surface Laptop. The point of this entire exercise is to now have the freedom to use any device, any OS, anywhere and not miss out on any critical application or service.
The winner: Apple Pay
Yes, I have an Apple Card and man do I love the cash back! I chose Apple Pay over Google Pay though because I’m an Apple Watch user and like the tap-to-pay option.
Phone (calls and text)
The winner: Google Voice
This has been my latest crisis. I’m currently using an iPhone and when I get a text message it will come up on my iPhone, MacBook Pro, and iPad thanks to iMessage. But what if I’m on my PC? What if I’m using my Chromebook? Apple Messages doesn’t yet have a web interface to monitor or respond to messages.
I could go with Google Messages but, again, not cross-platform. For example there is no Google Messages app for iPhone or iPad and if there was Apple would need to update their OS’ to include a way of changing default messaging app. Not likely to happen. Google Messages does at least have a webpage where you can monitor and respond.
I actually took a hard left on this one and have decided to take my important phone number – the one everyone has – and move it to Google Voice. I’ll put “dumb” phone numbers on my cell devices and use Google Voice for all of my texting and calls.
A note here: I’m using my free Gmail account to use Google Voice because the Google Voice that’s part of my Google Workspace account would cost $10/month for whatever reason.
The winner: Google Photos
This was a huge decision to make. I like Apple Photos but, again, it’s tied to Apple devices. What if I decide to use my Google Pixel phone for a while? Those photos just get lost? Or I end up with photos in both Apple Photos and Google Photos?
I decided to go with Google Photos because they have an app for iOS and iPadOS and that app will automatically “backup” your photos to Google Photos – all your photos in one place.
A note: Google Photos is one of the big reasons I’m spending money on a monthly Google Workspaces subscription. There’s been some hanky panky with storage in Google Photos for Gmail accounts lately and my Workspaces account has unlimited storage – including for photos.
The winner: Microsoft PowerPoint
This, again, comes down to the M365 subscription and using what I’ve paid for. Also, PowerPoint just DOMINATES the others.
The options: 3rd Party
The winner: Feedly
Yes, I still use RSS feeds. I miss Google Reader in a horrible way but have found Feedly an acceptable substitute.
The winner: Microsoft Excel
Try as they might nothing dethrones the king: Microsoft Excel. Besides, it’s included with my M365 subscription and like the other Microsoft apps is now web-based as well.
The winner: Google Finance
Again, this came down to accessibility outside of the developer’s hardware. I can get Google Finance anywhere.
The winner: both Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive
Here’s how this one played out: iCloud just isn’t ready – off the table from the start. I get Google Drive (2 TB) with my Google Workspace subscription and Microsoft OneDrive (1 TB) with my M365 subscription. I have about 300 GB of “stuff” (I picture George Carlin every time I say that word) that could really live anywhere. I chose to put that stuff in Google Drive. I also use OneDrive to sync my local computer folders like Desktop, Docs, etc because it does a great job of that on both Windows and macOS and that data is available in ChromeOS.
The winner: Microsoft To Do
Once again Apple’s option isn’t available outside Apple devices. Google Tasks is OK I guess but the winner is Microsoft in this round.
The winner: YouTube TV
We cut the cord last year – no longer paying for traditional clunky, tied to the house cable television. We still need live TV though. I mean… we HAVE to watch Rachel Maddow. At first we were on Hulu for live TV and then their rates went up so now we’re on YouTube TV. I can see this situation changing often based on pricing.
The winner: both Google Meet and Microsoft Teams
I don’t use these apps often in my personal life so it doesn’t really matter much but it came down to the apps I’m already paying for that can be accessed by anyone else I might be meeting with. FaceTime is out because anyone on an Androind can’t get on a call with me.
The winner: Apple Watch
I’ve had several Android-based watches (now called Wear OS) and they’ve been huge disappointments. It just doesn’t get better than an Apple watch.