It’s strange to use the word “ecosystem” to define a set of different devices using the same operating system. Yet, this is exactly what Apple has accomplished with its MacOs, iOS, and Apple Watch. Windows is only used on personal computers – lovingly called PC – and that’s… it?
I wouldn’t call myself an “Apple Fanboy”, especially since I only seem to buy whatever product they offer a few years after its release and I only buy used (got to save the environment). I wouldn’t deny if someone called me one either, but it’s strange how twists and turns in life sometimes end up right where they started.
In the early 1990s, my mom and I had an Apple PowerPC that roughly looked like the one below. Maybe not the exact same model, but you get the idea that is roughly like this.
Before Windows took over the market with Windows 95 and especially Windows 98, this computer accomplished everything I needed it to:
- I could record my awful music
- I could play video games like Math Blaster, Carmen SanDiego, Oregon Trail, Civilization, Populous, SimCity, and SimTower. All of which were generally educational.
- It had a calculator
- I could write documents for school and print them out for homework (rare at the time)
- I would use the Stephen Hawking-like voice to read random sets of letters to me like (aghahgahgahgahgahgaghagha) and laugh like an idiot – hey, I wasn’t even ten!
- I even learned my first programming language called Basic
- It supported the internet: America Online (AOL)
A close friend of mine in middle school would give me a hard time stating that Windows was better, and I would get upset with him and say that Apple was better. In hindsight, I’m fairly confident he did it because it frustrated me. Though, I still stand by that opinion. Let me elaborate.
As Windows came into play and computers started existing in schools and everywhere else, my father eventually purchased one and I was introduced to my first personal computer. Although it didn’t have the same text-to-voice features, Windows began to offer a wider selection of video games and software over time.
Though Windows was plagued with viruses through warez and other downloads from my own undoing, it was still generally superior with the amount of software available for it. Apple had its self-developed software for writing documents and handling finance, which was far superior to anything Microsoft provided. Lotus Word and other products became available, but I felt they weren’t as good for another few years until Microsoft Office 2000 (released in 2002).
Anecdotally, Windows was easier to develop software for than Apple’s software. Microsoft provided software like Visual Basic that allowed anyone like a teenager such as myself to easily and cheaply develop software. Since many people and myself were able to build software so easily through its semi-open source platform, it exploded in popularity. Languages like C and C++ that were natively built by Microsoft were available for anyone to use. Other languages like Fortran, Pascal, Delphi, and Java came along from other companies as well, giving developers more options for their software.
Windows had both a huge pro and con compared to the Apple computers: parts were customizable. Apple had set architecture for its operating system, so you couldn’t add RAM, change graphics cards, etc. easily. For those who had a PC operating on Windows, if your audio driver failed you could simply replace the hardware. A PC could be upgraded as well. If I wanted to upgrade my RAM or add another hard drive, it was easy to do. PCs were able to improve as the software required more memory, more space, and more RAM. With an Apple computer, this was a very difficult task. The evolution of your Apple computer didn’t change much since purchasing and replacing parts was difficult and replacing it with a new one altogether was an astronomical cost comparatively.
However, the huge downsize of Windows was that not every software supported every driver. Before running every game I had to select a video driver and an audio driver to play the game. This was quite painful as sometimes I had to remember which driver settings worked with which games, or quit the game and find the correct drivers, or download them. Sometimes, it wouldn’t work at all and I’d just throw the CD away. This was never a problem on Apple computers.
Keep in mind that this is in the early 1990s and games were primarily developed on DOS. DirectX was eventually developed and adopted by the late 1990s and bridged a lot of those issues. These days it happens in the background thanks to its SDK (Software Development Kit). Hardware companies ensure that their product is supported by DirectX, and game developers build their games with the DirectX SDK. For the first decade or so of its implementation, you needed to make sure you had the right version installed to run any game. Sometimes, older games were not supported by newer versions. Since online gaming stores like Steam didn’t exist back then, most game producers abandoned their games and there was little hope of playing them again properly (see warez).
While Apple basically fell into the background in the late 1990s to early 2000s and Microsoft took over with its Windows 2000 operating system and the eventual – please bring it back – Windows XP, the concept of Apple’s closed-source operating system now named MacOS still existed while Microsoft had a semi-open source Windows powerhouse. This brings me to the iPod.
The iPod was an MP3 player released back at the time when Napster was becoming a platform where people could download music for free that they otherwise didn’t have access to electronically. The MP3 player itself was nothing new as several others existed and used SD Cards for memory. Apple introduced an internally built hard drive for its iPod. The storage capacity was a game-changer. Honestly, I’m kicking myself to this day because I always thought it would be better to have an MP3 player with an internal hard drive, and then Apple came out with it and made billions while I made pumpkin at McDonald’s for an idea I never patented.
The iPod relied on Apple’s own music management software named iTunes to manage the music, playlists, podcasts, and software updates. The following year it was released to Windows and the rest, well, is history. The Apple ecosystem was born.
What became of iTunes was beyond just music as videos and movies became available. Then the eventual release of the iPhone a few years later which relied on iTunes for music and video, while simultaneously introducing the App Store. Then the Apple products kept coming: MacBook, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, Airtags, etc. Nothing they did was new, but it was superior.
All of these were designed to work specifically with a designated operating system known as MacOS. You could technically build a personal computer like Windows but install MacOS on it, but the MacOS operating system is specifically designed to work with specific hardware that I call the Apple Ecosystem. This hadn’t changed from the 1990s when Apple controlled both the software and the hardware.
While I generally used Windows for all my computer purposes, I’ve primarily used the iPhone for my phone usage. The reason is rather dumb: I have a tendency to constantly change the default applications on Android phones. I spent more time messing around with the kernel, changing applications, and playing with their settings than actually using them. When I tried the iPhone I loved the primary software it came with for simple things like mail, calendars, weather, web browser, etc. Now, you can certainly argue this is unfair (which is true), but that doesn’t avoid the fact I like them and they work how I need them to.
I strongly appreciated the fact that all software on the iPhone was designed to work on the iPhone. Very often on Android, I would come across software that was incompatible or too slow to function with my phone, especially after two years. Sometimes the software wouldn’t understand my screen’s resolution and be too large to see anything or too small. I’ve never experienced either problem on the same iPhone even after 5 years.
Then I got a MacBook because of work. What I didn’t realize at the time was how the two devices could cooperate. For example, 2-factor authentication is becoming increasingly common. If I am using my MacBook and log into a website that requires 2-factor authentication, I can receive a text message for authentication on my phone and then paste it onto my MacBook. Yes, seriously. Or, if I needed to easily transfer files between my phone and my MacBook I could just click “share with MacBook” and voila! It would happen.
These types of scenarios aren’t possible with Windows. Well, they are, but not nearly as easy. I could technically send myself a file via email on my phone and then download it on my PC, or use some sort of file transfer utility, but why would I want to when I can just share it? If I have a webpage open on my phone and I want to see it on my MacBook, I don’t even have to share it; I get a little notification that says, “Hey, you want to read that here?” I can easily switch just about anything I’m doing between my phone and my MacBook.
This isn’t even scratching the surface of the Apple ecosystem. What about WiFi passwords? You go to a friend’s house with your phone and need their WiFi password to save your cellular data, right? Then, one day you bring over your laptop and ask for it again. Not with Apple. If it’s saved on my iPhone then it’s saved on my MacBook or any other Apple device. Email accounts? Saved. Previously purchased applications I can use on either system? Saved. Calendar dates? Saved. Address book? Saved. Text messages? Saved. All of these are on multiple systems and saved automatically to iCloud for free.
While I don’t have an Apple Watch – and don’t intend to – I know that it can communicate with my phone to unlock it for me. One thing about wearing masks during the pandemic was that the Face ID wouldn’t work, but if I had an Apple Watch that wouldn’t have been a problem.
Airtags are also connected. Using the “FindMyDevice” app, I can see the location of all my devices whether they’re Airtags, the MacBook, or my iPhone. Additionally, I can ping any device to help me find it. So, if I lose my iPhone I can find it through my MacBook, or the other way around. If I lose both then I’m hosed.
While I primarily use Apple products for general applications, I still have uses for Windows as well. My work primarily requires Windows and the applications within its sphere. In addition, I still develop software on the side for contracts and primarily develop in Windows, which I could technically do on MacOS, but for obvious reasons, I don’t.
It’s funny how I escaped Apple only to return to it three decades later. They took advantage of their closed-source operating system approach to build interconnected hardware that is unrivaled and software that is always supported regardless of the hardware. I wouldn’t mind Microsoft re-introducing their Windows mobile operating system (which was actually quite good), but they have a long way to go to compete with Apple when it involves having different hardware communicating with each other in an ecosystem.