Unification: the Microsoft way or the Apple way?

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Apple’s continuity is a pretty powerful feature that’s coming to iOS. Actually, a lot of the features in iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite are very powerful. And they’re all designed to make you do one thing – go all in. Apple should do this, there is no question in my mind. But after giving it a couple of weeks to process, it occurs to me that Apple and Microsoft are taking two different approaches to the same end – unification.

Microsoft has been beating the unification drum for some time now. Microsoft’s dream is to make all devices – phones, tablets, and computers – run the same way, regardless of what you’re using. You want to send an email? Well if you’ve sent an email on one, you’ve sent it on all of them. It doesn’t matter what device you have in your hands; it works the same way. This is a pretty powerful concept and a pretty elusive unicorn. Some have said it’s elusive because your phone, tablet and computer aren’t supposed to work the same way. Enter Apple.

Apple’s continuity is all about a similar-though-not-quite-the-same concept. Apple’s philosophy is about making all of your devices do the same things the other devices can but in their own way. Sure you can send text messages from your computer, but not the same way you do on your phone. That’s silly. Phones and computers are different right? But the fact that you can send a text from your computer or tablet or phone is not a dissimilar concept. All your devices are working together.

yosem-vs-win8Unification over continuity

Personally, I prefer Microsoft’s approach. Well, maybe not its approach, but I long for Microsoft’s endgame more than Apple’s. I’m not entirely sure why. Being a technical kind of guy, if I need to send a text from my computer, and I know that computer has the capability, I can figure out how to do it. I don’t necessarily need it to be in the same place as on my phone. But I find the concept of it to be very appealing. Very simple.

Apple’s approach totally makes sense too. It’s all like, “Hey, why do you want your computer to work like a phone? It’s a computer, for crying out loud.” I get that too. Getting all of your devices to work together is a great idea. Fitting each function into the design paradigm of each ecosystem makes a ton of sense. But, in my opinion (which is after all what an editorial is) it’s the easy way out.

This is hard

Making three different devices in three different categories work in the same way and together and having it make sense for every hardware platform is hard. It’s really insanely hard. I couldn’t think of a way to do it. Some would argue Microsoft hasn’t either. I think Tiles are a really good Start (see what I did there?) But Microsoft is a long, long, long way away from making every device work the same. They all look the same way, but functioning, that’s the dirty part.

Apple, on the other hand is well on its way (or will be once the betas become official) to making everything work together, but only within it’s own boundaries. That’s a really cool thing, and I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s powerful. But what Microsoft is trying to do is to redefine the rules, and that could have a long lasting effect on the computing world as a whole. All Apple has done is built a couple of more apps.

s5-vs-nokiaApples to apples

There is a very strong argument for doing it Apple’s way. It’s simpler, both for Apple and for the users. Let’s not forget the most important distinction between the two methods – Apple’s is here today. Microsoft is still juggling Pro, RT, Phone, etc. while Apple is rolling it’s new goodies onto the showroom floor. Microsoft could be (and seemingly is) a long way away from not only getting the technologies to work the way it wants, but getting people to work it the way it wants. Windows 8 adoption is pretty low for an operating system that’s going on 18 months old.

Better or worse?

I’m not saying that either way is better. I just think that Microsoft has a bigger challenge ahead of it than just figuring out a way to get a web page from your phone onto your laptop. I’m also not devaluing what Apple is doing just because they’re not reinventing the wheel. It just so happens that Microsoft’s dream of bringing every device under one umbrella is more compelling to me than sending a text while my phone is still in my pocket.

It’s not better, or worse. It just amounts to two different approaches to very similar goals. If they both end up achieving those goals, so much the better. But I’ll be a lot happier when and if Microsoft’s goal comes to fruition.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs.Read more about Adam Doud!