Cloud Ecosystem Lock-In Doesn’t Really Exist
Both Apple and Google are building a relatively seamless ecosystem around their products and services, and both of them involve the cloud as a key component. Apple seems to be leading the way in terms of integration and seamlessness of it (no surprise there) while Google might be leading in terms of features, that is, all of the things that can be done in the Google cloud, with only a web browser as a client.
I currently own an Android smartphone and a Mac, but I have to admit that the iCloud integration that I would get if I had both a Mac and an iPhone is a huge draw for me. However, when I talk about this I sometimes get warned about putting all of my eggs in a single basket, getting too dependent on one company and their ecosystem.
The concern, of course, is over vendor lock-in; becoming so dependent on a single company that it becomes hard to get out once you’re in. The trouble is, how much is this really possible with ecosystems based around cloud computing such as the iCloud and Google? Both are examples of complementary cloud computing, especially the iCloud, where the cloud doesn’t completely replace local resources (such is the case with Chromebooks), but merely complements them in a way that makes it far easier to manage your digital stuff.
The iCloud is essentially just a glorified data syncing system. All of the data remains on your devices and therefore continue to be under your control. At any time you can transfer all that music, photos, documents, and so on, to another device. If you were to switch to Android after some time of using only a Mac, and an iPhone, I don’t see there being much of an obstacle to wholesale transferring your data to Google Drive, Dropbox, or local storage.
The same goes for Google. While Google Docs uses their own format they provide an easy way to export documents to other formats including Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org.
This is a somewhat different story from the old Microsoft’s Windows lock in where the alternatives not only barely existed, but there was no real compatibility to be heard of with what little alternative there was.
There are some who argue that iCloud represents a lock in and thickening of the walls of Apple’s walled garden because it makes it “harder” for users to escape Apple’s ecosystem. However, what they mean by “harder” actually refers to “too convenient” or “too attractive”. Apple is creating incentive for people to stay in their ecosystem and deepen their ties to it by making it the easiest thing to do, not by means of making it harder to leave, but by making staying a more rewarding experience.
Of course, it can be said that Apple is engaging in customer lock-in by making the iCloud service incompatible with competing devices, but then we get into a discussion of whether a business should be a charity or not, and I think everyone sensible knows an answer to that. If Apple should open up the iCloud services to Android users, for example, then perhaps Google should start hosting iOS apps on the Android Market and enable one-click web install to the iPhone and the iPad. Let’s get serious.
The fact remains that if an ecosystem doesn’t make it practically impossible or hard to transfer your data out to another one, or to your own “ecosystem”, then no matter how attractive it might be to stay in it there is no real “lock-in” to speak of.
Of course, for those who still don’t wish to wholesale belong to either of the big ecosystems there exist plenty of ways to mix and match the way they wish. For instance, I currently use SimpleNote, which is an open cloud-based notes platform supported by a multitude of clients. I use Notational Velocity on my Mac, and Notational Acceleration on my Android so I can have all of my notes on both devices via the SimpleNote cloud. This makes that particular part of my digital life independent of either of the big ecosystems.
All things considered we have more choice than ever, it is easier than ever to mix and match the way we please, and to switch between solutions as they fit our needs and desires. Lock-in is not what it used to be.