Your local OS, not just online services, still matter in 2017

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read

Apple gets a lot of heat for being bad at services, bad at AI, and bad at collecting user data. The common example that comes up as a company doing this right is Google who as we all know is collecting mad amounts of data about every one of us. Google Photos is better than Apple Photos, Google Assistant is better than Siri, and Google Docs is better than iWork in the cloud. I really can't argue with these, as I personally use Google Photos to back up my photo collection (although I also have everything in iCloud too), I use Google Docs for sharing and collaborating on documents, and I find Google Assistant to do a better job of getting me answers to my questions than Siri.

So why am I not a Google fanboy who is down on Apple for being behind the game? It's quite simple, but it's also something that a surprising number of people either don't understand, or don't care about. The simple fact is that my choice of being primarily an iOS and macOS user means I have best-in-class access to almost all of these amazing services that are made by non-Apple companies. I lose nothing by using iOS and macOS as my local operating systems, except when it comes to Google Assistant, which I have complained about before.

I have Google Maps on my phone, but I usually use Apple Maps because it has a better look and feel in my opinion. But if Apple Maps is wrong about something or doesn't do what I want in a particular case, I can switch over to Google Maps and hope that it gets it right. Even if I said "Apple Maps is the worst thing ever!" all I have to do is "delete" Apple Maps form my phone and download Google Maps. Easy.

Google Photos is better than Apple's solution when it comes to search, but I prefer Apple Photos in most other ways. Apple's Photos service and local app have better editing tools and better haring options than Google's app. So if that removing the chain link fence from the photo looked good to you, then iOS is a perfectly good place to be.

And what about Microsoft apps and services, which have gotten better in recent years too? You guessed it, they're all on iOS as well. If I don't like Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, then I can pay Microsoft for access to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint and use what some argue are the best versions of those apps on iOS (iOS got full touch-based Office apps before Windows). And if you, like many others, like Word and Excel but prefer Keynote to Powerpoint, then you can use Microsoft and Apple's apps together, which you can't do on other platforms.

At Microsoft's Build Conference last month, the company showed off some great software and cloud services, but what was striking was that almost everything that wasn't shown on a PC was running on an iPhone. Think about that, Microsoft still makes Windows for smartphones, and sells Windows phones today if you'd like one, but they demoed their newest, best software on iOS.

Microsoft has 87 apps on the iPhone today, including the full Office suite, OneDrive, Cortana, and many other experimental iOS-only apps built around augmented reality and machine learning. If you are deeply connected with the Microsoft ecosystem, and are invested in the software and services that Microsoft creates, it's hard to argue that you should buy any thing other than an iPhone for your next phone.

Obviously the Google services and some of the Microsoft ones are available on Android as well, so why am I still a fan of iOS? I think Apple still has a far superior interface for devices. Services are great, and they're essential tools for the modern world, but the local operating systems that you use to access these services is equally important. Android has merits, and it's the right operating system for some people, but I honestly think it sucks. Android is not as smooth as iOS, even on the highest end hardware. Android doesn't have the same vibrant community of independent developers making innovative software as iOS. Android doesn't have the exclusive apps that iOS does, and often apps are written with iOS in mind and then converted over to Android. And with iOS 11, Android goes from trailing a ton, to not even being in the same league in terms of tablet UIs.

Why would I use a local operating system that is inferior in so many ways (my opinion, of course) to access the same services that I can get on the local system that I prefer?

Now maybe one day Google, Microsoft, and others will start to leave iOS, in which case I would be more reliant on Apple's own online services as my only option. That would not be great for me, or for just about anyone else. Maybe Apple will make their online services better than ever and I won't miss the other stuff, but even then losing my ability to pick and choose what providers to use for everything I do would be a serious bummer and I would have to reassess. But in 2017 there is no indication that any big company is looking to jump off the iOS bandwagon. Google still makes most of their products release day-and-date on iOS with their Android versions, and some things like Gboard are even iOS exclusives for months at a time. Meanwhile Microsoft seems to be treating iOS like their own native platform, with all of their best software hitting iOS and desktop Windows first and then sometimes spreading out to other platforms.

So my iPhone and iPad get access to all of Google and Microsoft's best services, and I also get Apple Pay, iMessage, Apple Photos, Apple News, Workflow, Apple Watch, HomeKit, and all the third party apps that are not on Android. Gosh, I can't imagine why someone would buy an iPhone anymore…