On WWDC 2021, Apple showcase new features and updates for the upcomming iOS, iPadOS, WatchOS and macOS which is scheduled to be released in fall 2021. What is not shown nor mentioned is that the features that is demoed is available, one form or another, for the entire Apple Ecosystem. What is the Apple Ecosystem? It is something that Apple make but do not directly market it, feature it or even mentioned it by name.
Now we have written about the Ecosystem(tm) sometime last year, but since WWDC 2021, the amount of integration in the ecosystem has taken to an entirely new level. In this article we will recap what is the ecosystem and massive behind the scene changes that Apple has done and presented at WWDC 2021.
What really is the Apple Ecosystem?
Apple Ecosystem(tm) is not an Apple Product. You could not go to Apple Store and “buy” the Apple Ecosystem, but it is a user and lifestyle experience which is a by-product of owning several Apple devices. Think of it when you pay your favorite role-playing game, you get character bonuses when you collect a rare set. The ecosystem is basically that. Special features that available to your Apple devices that take your user experience to another level because of interaction between Apple devices.
Apple able to create the ecosystem because Apple does not designs around a single device. It design around the ecosystem. It used to design around a single device, but sometime around the iPad and iPhone era, the ecosystem emerges and now silently becoming a dominant feature of the Apple experience. Furthermore, Apple does not market the ecosystem overtly, but subtly.
The back bone of the entire Apple Ecosystem is the Apple ID. The Apple ID is use to register all of your Apple devices. From there, Apple will not know how many devices you know, but see if they are nearby and if the nearby devices is a part of your contact circle. Information like this means that the device will be accessible to your or someone related to you.
From stand point of UX
Going into the Apple ecosystem is like going into the world where everything works. For example, the iPhone does not only work on its own, but the iPhone works with every other Apple device that you own.
In the ecosystem, there are Apple slowly but surely has lay out common services and app through their entire lineup over 10 years. For example, before 2012, notes were a part of macOS mail app which synchronize with the iOS Notes app. This does not really work between both devices. Then Apple released Mountain Lion which introduced separate Notes and Remainders while iChat changed into Messages. These are the first seed of the Apple Ecosystem. Since then, macOS, iPadOS and iOS has common applications like Weather, FaceTime, Safari (which can synchronize tabs between devices), Photos and the most recent addition: Shortcut (which will replace Automator in macOS in the future).
By making all the devices has the same kind of applications, there is profound effect that the user can basically expect all the devices will work pretty much in the same way between devices. Furthermore, the data that the apps use are stored on the iCloud (Apple cloud services), the content of each app will pretty much synchronized to the point that you can continue your work in a different device that you take off. This feature which is call Continuity enables a seamless interaction between devices. That kind of seamless experience is what the Apple ecosystem is all about.
There are also the paid services that Apple provides like Music, TV+, Fitness+, News+ and others that are in the works (rumor has it at Podcast+) which not only works seamlessly with each device, but also available on most devices. So, you pay a single monthly fee, and all of your devices can have such services.
Apple ecosystem is superior than other offering because no other company that has the entire stack covered. Microsoft might fight Apple on the desktop front, Google on the mobile and maybe tablet front and Sony on the gaming front, but Apple has the vertical integration of providing desktop, mobile, watch, table and tv interfaces.
With such wide variety of platforms, Apple made the good decision to streamline all platforms look and feel. Going from one platform to another, there is not much differences in terms of look and feel and that is intentional.
Examples of ecosystem Features
From the software point of view, Apple made iCloud as the lynchpin of the ecosystem experience. Most apple common apps are iCloud connected, so you can have the same data synchronize between devices. You receive a message on one device, it goes to all devices. You are away from your phone; you can pick up you calls on the laptop and other devices.Universal Control in macOS Monterey. Notice how well iPadOS and macOS is integrated
By also controlling the hardware, Apple take the multi-device interaction one step further. It can also detect your devices are closer to each other and act appropriately. Features like Universal Control (coming to macOS Monterey on supported devices) allows you to take over nearby macs and iPads that you own. Not only recognizing your devices, it can also recognize your friends' devices. People in your contact list, their devices can talk to your devices like Wi-Fi password sharing, AirDrop and a newer feature, SharePlay which allows everyone to share apps on multiple devices.
From stand point of Hardware integration
As mentioned before, Apple ecosystem offering is superior than the competition at the moment because they not only control the software that runs the hardware, they also control the hardware. With the introduction of the M1 chips, Apple now has the same hardware platform on all their devices from tiny little Airpods that fit on your ears to desktops like your iMac. Because every device more or less has the same hardware architecture (license ARM instruction set but custom chip from Apple) Apple can tailor made the experience unlike other companies.
One one example, Apple uses their own custom Bluetooth chip. The problem with Bluetooth that sometimes getting the devices connected can be a chore. But with Apple custom Bluetooth chip on most of their devices, connecting is faster and easier. The most underrated feature is that you just register your Bluetooth headphones, like the AirPods Pro, once, and it is available on basically all of your devices. No need to re-register for every other device. Small feature, but instantly make the experience much better.
Apple started added U1 chip on the iPhone 11. The U1 chip is Apple’s implementation of ultra-wide band technology which utilize a low-power but high bandwidth of the spectrum. In English, it has a chip that can be aware of other chip and transfer large amount of data in short distances. Since then, Apple put the U1 chip on HomePod Mini and also the Apple Watch and expect to put it on more devices on their lineup. Because of this, you have better interactions between their devices. For example, you are listening “Around the World by Daft Punk”. You wanted to feel more, so you want to transfer that music to the HomePod Mini. Instead of fiddling with controls on the Music app, you just tap the HomePod Mini with your iPhone and the HomePod Mini instantly plays it.
The Whole is Greater Than Sum of Its Parts
Apple goals for the ecosystem is twofold. First is the provide a user experience that is better when you have more and more Apple product. Having their entire line unlocks more features on each product that can only be possible if you control the entire technological stack. The second, which people often criticize, is that it provides a vendor lock-in feature. Some people call this Apple’s walled garden. Others call it anti-competitive behavior. While it is true that Apple does not force you to use the features which they did not actively market or advertise, it is very hard for the consumer to leave the Apple wall garden because at this juncture, Apple does not really have a strong competition against their ecosystem. While some companies provide a fraction of their services and do cross platform like Zoom for meetings, Telegram for messaging, Gmail for email, no one build the entire stack like Apple does.
So, Apple Ecosystem is a unique experience that you’ll get when you have a plethora of Apple devices from their desktops and laptops to their watches and wireless earbuds. Their unique differential factor is that they control the entire stack so they have unique, tailor-made experience for you.
Judging from recent WWDC demo and announcements, Apple focus in the future will not be purely hardware, but how much they can make the plants in the garden lusher or the walls higher, depending on your point of view. This will be good news for people that live in the ecosystem, but some might see it is harder to switch ecosystems in the future.
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