Choosing Between the Tech Titans

 

There’s a really cool interactive article from Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times that made the rounds on the web last week, posing a really interesting hypothetical. Rank which of the following tech giants you could live without from easiest to hardest: Alphabet (Google), Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon. If you have a couple of minutes I suggest checking out the article and playing along. Farhad gives his choices and shows what others chose to drop first and last. I decided to use this article as a jumping off point to discuss the roles these huge tech companies play in my life, and how some of them have changed over the years. Like the article I’m choosing the companies in the order in which I’d drop them.

Facebook

I know it’s not that difficult to live life without Facebook because I recently got off of the service for a three month span. The things I like about Facebook: easily staying connected to loved ones, forming small groups within my friends list for events like weddings and school reunions, and having access to the opinions of millions of people on demand, are the same things that I hate about it.

Still, there’s no denying that Facebook is a giant that is only starting to show just how big it can get. For many people Facebook is the only app that really matters on their phone. It’s how millions of people get their news and stay connected to the people they care about. I know people twice my age who basically exclusively use the service as their portal to the internet.

You also have to account for Instagram when you say you could live in a world without Facebook, which would be a harder sell for me. Instagram has become an oasis on my phone when I get to the point that I can’t stand reading bad news on twitter everyday. Sometimes I just want to stare at hi-res photos of cool sneakers or travel photos.

The other day I posted a story about a woman from the Philippines who lived her life as a slave in America, when I posted a link to the story on Facebook I got a handful of views from people who live in the Philippines, and that was pretty amazing. I think it speaks to the power of social networking, and that would be hard to give up, and yet it pales in importance compared to these other companies.

Microsoft

Oh how the mighty have fallen. If you would have posed this question to me a decade ago Microsoft would have been the last company I would have written off. I spent over two decades learning and working on Windows PCs and Windows Services. I didn’t even touch a Mac until I was well into my 20s, but when I did it was hard to go back. Every Windows machine I’ve ever owned has felt sluggish compared to their mac counterparts.

About a year ago my wife and I decided to buy a Windows laptop to have for when the other was working on the iMac. We got an Acer laptop with a current i5 processor and plenty of RAM, thinking it would be more than capable of suiting our rather modest computing needs. It’s a fine computer… it’s fine, but there are just these annoyances about the third party bloatware, slow boot up times, and general build quality that make it a bit of a bore to use.

Even when I am using the laptop it’s mostly just serves as a way for me to work in Google Chrome when I don’t want to be at my desk. The services that Windows offers are no longer best in class (unless you are an excel wizard, I guess). Perhaps if I was more into gaming I could see the value in building a nice Windows gaming rig, but that’s not my life. I only play a couple of games anymore and my PS4 runs them fine. For a product that I spent most of my life using I have absolutely no nostalgic ties to Microsoft, and only have them above Facebook because I do a fair amount of work on my laptop, but if I had the extra cash in my bank account to replace it with a Macbook I would in a heartbeat.

Amazon

The biggest reason that Amazon has made it past Facebook and Microsoft on this list is because of the Echo Dot and how it has completely changed my daily life. I can’t think of the last time a completely new product had that kind of effect. I suppose you could argue smartphones, but even those were iterations (if not a transformative one) of a known commodity.

When I make my coffee in the morning I have Alexa set a timer and give me NPR’s daily news update. When my wife and I run out of something from the kitchen we have her put it on a shopping list — which has cut back on us forgetting stuff at the store by 200 percent. We use Alexa as a radio, bartender, scheduler and argument ender. What Amazon has created really does feel like having a personal assistant in the home.

One more antidote about the Echo. Today my wife was trying on the dress she is going to wear to the wedding we are attending this weekend. She looked beautiful, as always, so I seized the moment by telling Alexa to play our first dance song, “Let’s Stay Together” and we had a lovely couple of minutes dancing together in our kitchen. It was the kind of spontaneous moment that could have only happened with the Echo in the room. That’s my pitch for the device, and for AI in the home.

There are other things that I love about Amazon, but you’ve heard them all before. Yes, Amazon Prime is a great service that gets better the more you use it. They have a great selection of movies and TV you can watch using Amazon Prime Video, and I hear really good things about their music and photo services as well. All of that is a bonus to how amazing of a product they have in the Echo line.

Apple

The first Apple product I ever had was a second generation iPod Touch, which was given to me as a birthday gift and quickly became the best piece of tech I’ve ever used. I used that that thing every single day for seven years until I finally made the jump to Spotify as my go-to music service. Even now, two years after I’ve shelved it, the iPod will still boot up and work fine. Sure, one of the volume buttons sticks, and the home button isn’t 100 percent responsive, but for a device that has been used for tens of thousands of hours, through countless runs and workouts, I say bravo Apple.

Every Apple device I have owned has been the best version of that device I’ve ever used. My first Macbook Pro was by far the best laptop I’ve ever used. The iMac I do most of my daily work on is easily the best desktop I’ve ever used. The iPad Air 2 that I carry around the house all day with me is still as fast and beautiful as it was the day I took it out of the box. When I read that Apple is having a hard time selling iPads I can’t help but think that — of course they are having a hard time selling more iPads — once you buy an iPad you never really need another one. I’m almost afraid to buy an iPhone because once I do I will be fully invested into their ecosystem and I now I’ll never go back.

There are things not to like about Apple. They charge fairly outrageous prices for the products because they know that people will buy them. They force dumb standards on their customers about every other year, and are currently in a phase in which they feel that people don’t need more than one port on their devices. Let’s not even talk about how mad they’ve made pro users by not having updated the Mac Pro in years.

That all said — when people ask me what their first major tech purchase should be, no matter if it’s a tablet, laptop, desktop or phone I recommend Apple. Because the secret sauce of the company, by locking down their platforms and doing their own hardware and software, works. I go back to that raggedy, beat-up iPod Touch that still boots up. Apple makes great products that are a little overpriced but worth every penny. Maybe that is a little less true than it was ten years ago, but their standard is still higher than everyone else’s.

Google

From the moment I wake up in the morning until the final minutes I spend awake, I am constantly using at least one of Google’s Services. You could strip away all of these other companies and the services they provide, but if I had internet and a device that could sufficiently run Google Chrome, my life would not change all that much.

It’s not just that I use Google Services that puts them at the top of his list, it’s that I really enjoy using them. I’m terrible at planning ahead, but adding events into Google Calendar is as easy as pulling up Google Assistant on my phone and telling it to schedule an appointment for “such and such time at “such-and-such place.” Google Photos is home to all of my photos online, and it’s a pleasure to use.

When my wife and I went on a trip to Grand Rapids we used Google Maps to navigate us both on the highway and while we walked from brewery to brewery. We used Google reviews to help us find a good lunch spot, and Keep to take notes when locals were giving us suggestions for great dinner place. When I would take dozens of photos throughout the day Photos would arrange the best shots into an album. All of the services worked in tandem to give us a better trip.

It was a difficult choice between Apple and Google because I use them in tandem much of the time. I feel like Google services run really well on Apple hardware. I’m writing this post on a gorgeous iMac screen in Google Docs that is running on a Chrome browser. I use the Mail app when I’m working but I exclusively use Gmail. The deciding factor is that I could also be writing this on the Windows laptop in my kitchen or on my Android Phone. I’m a sucker for a well designed piece of hardware but it feels like services are starting to pull ahead in the technological zeitgeist, and Google is to services what Apple is to hardware and software.

Would I miss having the high quality hardware, and the elegant OS of a Mac? Sure. But I could make it work. There’s a world in which the only computing device I have is a decent Chromebook and I’m still able to keep this blog running, check email, surf the web and watch Netflix. That makes Google the winner of this challenge, hands-down.