Are you invested in an ecosystem?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: December 20, 2011

For smartphones, it isn’t just about the phone anymore. Sure, the phone is a big part of it, but it isn’t the whole show anymore. I’ve seen the word “ecosystem” pop up a few times recently, and it made me realize that I’ve made a few purchases in the past, and even very recently, based on not just the phone itself, but also the fact that I’ve invested so much time, effort, and most importantly money into the phone’s connected ecosystem. I’ve made connections to this train of thought in the past, but after seeing a few comments here and there, I think it’s starting to paint a pretty clear picture: some people won’t try new platforms, not in a realistic fashion, based entirely off the fact they’re invested in an ecosystem.

When Android launched, and for a long while after its launch, there wasn’t an ecosystem. You could buy apps from your phone and use them, yes, but that’s where it ended. Cloud services were being used, but they weren’t the huge rage that they seem to be now. So without the cloud, an ecosystem doesn’t really have a place, nor can it really survive in today’s market. But, as we’ve watched the little green ‘droid evolve, that ecosystem has flourished into something Android owners can genuinely be proud of, even if they don’t necessarily use services like Google Music, or dig their way into the PC-version of the Android Market. The ecosystem is there now, and there are plenty of people who have invested so much time, effort and money into that ecosystem, that jumping ship to another platform just doesn’t make sense.

I think this can be said of any platform, to be honest. While webOS is not the biggest ecosystem out there, I know people who purchased applications on webOS without thinking twice, because they loved the platform (still love it) and didn’t ever want to leave it. Now that there’s a huge question mark above the future of webOS (hooray for open source, right?), I’m wondering what is next for those people. The same goes for Windows Phone, which has so many great stand-alone services like Zune Music and Xbox LIVE gaming, that using a Windows Phone for just those things, and not necessarily as your primary phone, makes perfect sense. That’s all based on how much you’ve spent in that ecosystem, of course.

But I see the most talk about investment when it comes to those who have purchased Apple products. While these other platforms certainly have an ecosystem all their own, and people have thrown themselves into it, I notice that with Apple products like the iPhone, it is much more prevalent. And I think that has everything to do with the fact that Apple has invested so much time in the cloud on their end, and making a digital retail location for Apple-branded devices that not only allows access from each of these devices, but as well as accessibility.

People that I’ve spoken with have spent so much time within the Apple (walled?) garden that it isn’t about better opportunities out there, or other ecosystems. Most of these people will admit that other mobile operating systems, like Android and Windows Phone, have great features that they would love to use. But, it isn’t about that. It’s about the investment that they have made, and about the investment they will continue to make. There’s no denying that Apple makes it very easy to play media within devices in their own family, but the moment you try to disrupt that with other devices not from inside that garden, things get sketchy. These people who use an iPhone, but also own a MacBook Pro and Apple TV, aren’t just waving their hand at Windows Phone or BlackBerry because they hate those other platforms – it’s because they’ve spent so much money on their current ecosystem of choice that going to another platform, and spending so much money to make it work like it does now just doesn’t make sense.

And that, in and of itself, makes perfect sense to me. For me personally, I’m so spread out on every platform that I don’t think I can say I’m completely and totally invested in one over another. If I tried I could probably find out which platform has wrangled most of my money over the years, but I won’t do that, simply because my lack of a total and complete investment in one ecosystem means I can enjoy all of them without worrying about needing to enjoy one over another.

Do you buy a new phone based on the ecosystem? Or are you all about the phone itself? Let me know.