Polyecosystamory

· 4 minute read

Around the time of Apple and Google’s maps-induced falling out, there seemed to be a common consumer-tech refrain around how the best theoretical experience would be comprised of Apple hardware tightly integrated with both Google’s software and Amazon’s content, and how much of a shame it was that this would almost certainly never come to fruition. Instead, it felt wasteful that all three companies were directly competing with one another on so many different fronts instead of each just doing what they do best.

This was a simplistic and misguied viewpoint, however – it’s precisely because such fervent competition exists that these companies and so many others have been pushed to build their best-in-breed products: Kindle is better because of iBooks, Spotify is better because of Apple Music, and iOS is better because of Android. This list goes on and on and on.

Today, such competition exists across far more vectors than in 2012. In 2018, we not only choose a type of smartphone to purchase, but which voice assistant we’ll talk to, which services we’ll stream our music and videos from, and which smart devices we’ll outfit our homes with. Such choices can be paralysis-inducing, and as such it’s hard to blame one for choosing to:

  1. Commit solely to either Google, Apple, or Amazon
  2. Commit to nothing, abstaining from adopting too many new devices and services until an indeterminate time in the future when it’s more obvious what the “best” setup will be

I’m here to tell you that these aren’t the only options, and that ecosystem polyamory can actually work quite well in practice. Just as the lack of deep Google and Amazon integrations on iOS hasn’t stopped most of us from using the Google Maps and Kindle apps on our iPhones, mixing and matching devices and services from different vendors can be a completely viable strategy depending on your particular home and familial needs. Of course, there are downsides – heterogeneous setups are more complicated, redundant, and inconsistent – but what you lose in simplicity, you gain in flexibility and optionality. And I hate to break it to you, but there’s likely never going to be a “best” setup much like how Google’s services are likely never going to integrate with iOS as deeply as Apple’s.

My wife and I have an Apple TV, which we can AirPlay to from our devices or use the Apple TV iOS app as a remote control. We have Sonos speakers for both TV audio and music, because Sonos provides far more hardware options than Apple does. We have Lutron Caseta lightswitches which are both HomeKit and Alexa-compatible, meaning they can be controlled from iOS, Siri, our Sonos Ones, or our Echo Dots. We use Apple Music primarily, but could switch to Spotify at some point. Spotify has better Sonos integration1 and Alexa support2, but doesn’t work as well with the Apple Watch. When we occasionally ask Alexa to play music, it uses the free tier of Amazon’s Prime music service. Occasionally this won’t include something that Apple Music does, but it’s somewhat rare and just one of the tradeoffs.

We subscribe to YouTube TV, which can be played either through an Apple TV app, or by casting directly from the YouTube TV iOS app. The latter requires your TV to have Cast support, but it’s easy to buy a cheap Chromecast device to add to a TV that doesn’t already come with it built-in. We could at some point replace our Echo Dots with Google Home Minis, which would allow us control YouTube TV via voice as well (Google Home already integrates with Lutron switches, and Sonos support is on the way).

If this setup sounds like it‘s continually evolving, it is, because consumer technology as a whole always is.

All of these companies – Apple, Amazon, Google, Sonos, Spotify, etc. – will continue to push forward on these fronts. As such, despite the landscape perhaps feeling devoid of clear answers today, I can’t personally foresee a “winning ecosystem“ coming into focus anytime soon. Waiting for this to happen will likely mean indefinitely depriving yourself of products that may otherwise meet a need today.

If there’s a single ecosystem that suits you, all the better. But if not, I wouldn’t be afraid to mix and match, especially if doing so will allow you to solve a problem that may never be solved by waiting.

Come on in, the water’s fine.

  1. You can use the Spotify app instead of either using the Sonos app or AirPlaying. 

  2. You can’t play Apple Music through Alexa.