Jaren Lopez writes:

Although the Microsoft ecosystem is young and completely different from Apple’s, what are the major benefits of investing in Apple products instead of Microsoft products? I would prefer to keep myself in one ecosystem rather than having one Microsoft product, one Apple product, and one Android product. I’m leaning towards Microsoft, as I prefer the live tiles (Metro) interface, Xbox Music (free music), touch-centricity, and being able to sync settings across devices. But what is something that you can tell me about Apple’s ecosystem that would possibly make me change my mind?

Why Would I Want to Consider Apple's Ecosystem over Microsoft's?I hate to regurgitate one of the oft-repeated adages about Apple products being for creative types… so I won’t. For one thing, it doesn’t apply anymore, what with the steadily increasing number of quality productivity applications available for Mac OS X and even iOS. As for Windows-based PCs, a decade or so ago the strongest argument for directing someone to Microsoft’s platform would have been one application: Microsoft Office. Though the first versions of Microsoft Word first appeared on Mac systems over two decades ago, until OS X (and really, until the operating system had fully matured), the Apple platform had faced a number of shortcomings in being an acceptable alternative to Windows-based PCs in all but a few corporate office environments.

Importing and exporting Office documents between Macs and Windows PCs while preserving the original integrity of the documents was an issue, for example. This was just one shortcoming of working with Macs; there were also a limited variety of accounting, database, and other applications that most corporate office workers and even small business owners required to perform their daily tasks. Yet for anyone who was interested or already working in graphic design, desktop publishing, audio composition, video production, photography, or some other type of “creative” endeavor, the Apple Macintosh line of products seemed clearly tailor-made for such purposes.

Mac OS X was first previewed over a dozen years ago, and Apple, thanks in large part to third-party software developers, has since made great strides in office productivity. Most of the compatibility issues of bygone days have been overcome, and with the market share of Apple products continuing to grow, there is a continuous flow of new applications and apps being released for both OS X and iOS, many of which are dedicated to getting things other than media editing and artwork done. No longer is Apple simply considered exclusively the platform for artists, and regardless of what the Samsung smartphone commercials would have you believe, Apple mobile devices are not, and have never been, simply for hipsters and the technologically clueless. That’s not to say that some Android-based devices aren’t absolutely marvelous devices; it’s simply a marketing falsity to assert that the the iPhones are lesser device than Samsung’s Android-based ones. Both devices are exceptional, and deliver in the areas — and, by extension, the users — for which they are most suited.

With so many companies relying on social networking for their marketing purposes, iPhones (and even iPod touches) have for many purposes become preferable devices to use for sharing and distributing content. Unless the Windows Phone platform becomes more popular, most of the social marketing performed by those dedicated to Microsoft’s products will be performed using Windows laptops or tablets, since Windows Phone simply hasn’t reached full maturity yet, and developers are simply more interested in developing their best apps for the platforms that have (Android and iOS). So if you’re planning on sticking with Microsoft, consider purchasing an iPhone or an Android smartphone so that you’ll be able to get some work done, particularly if you wish to use the latest and most popular mobile apps.

One major consideration when looking into delving into the Apple ecosystem is one of major contention between both Apple advocates and the anti-Apple establishment: proprietary standards. Apple makes a good deal of profit by restricting the tainting of its products through quality control, and part of that control turns off a good number of potential customers. For example, every few years Apple likes to incorporate new types of technology into its products that aren’t yet widely adopted, such as its introduction of FireWire (Apple’s name for the IEEE 1394 standard) way before Windows-based PC vendors were incorporating the data-transfer technology into their systems. Apple also famously excluded floppy drives and optical drives from its computers before any PC manufacturers did. Most recently, Apple switched to a new type of connector for its iOS devices.

Whenever Apple introduces proprietary connectors or even open standards that are not yet widely used, the company causes just as many problems as it seems to be attempting to solve. Many peripheral manufacturers have to rush to develop solutions that will enable consumers to continue to use their products with Apple devices. Consumers have to spend more money to purchase the resulting solutions. And although many consumers are perfectly willing to pony up the cash for the changes that Apple introduces — since most of the technologies Apple introduces greatly improve the overall user experience and productivity for consumers — there are plenty of users who don’t appreciate these alterations. So you must decide if you are willing to be a flexible consumer when it comes to buying into Apple.

Apple also undergoes a more rigorous vetting process when accepting third-party developers’ apps into its App Store. This creates consternation for some developers, but for the consumer it usually ensures more reliable and well-built mobile apps. By comparison, Google Play (Android’s apps marketplace, formerly called Android Market) accepts far more apps from developers, resulting in what many perceive as a store of applications that is inferior to Apple’s. The subject is moot, however, as nobody has been able to reach a conclusion as to which platform offers the superior software. One thing that can be said for certain, however, is that Microsoft has a far smaller collection of applications available for its Windows Phone mobile operating system.

At the same time, with Microsoft’s new Windows 8 and Windows Phone strategies, you also have to be quite flexible. Fortunately for you, you seem to be enjoying the new interface and integration that Microsoft is offering with its latest products, so you won’t have to worry as much as other Windows consumers about upgrading into a new paradigm that may or may not turn out to be less inspiring than the advertisements would have it. So investing heavily into the Mac world may not be in your best interest at this time. If you can afford to, buy a Mac mini — you know, one of the “headless” ones that you can use with an existing display — and see how much it grabs you. It’s the least expensive way to gain a solid understanding of how Mac OS X operates. You don’t have to dive headfirst into the Mac ecosystem, and a Mac mini will provide you with what you need to test the waters before you decide to plunge in or not.

If you can’t afford a Mac mini right now, a good alternative may be the iPod touch or iPhone, which you may find you prefer to using a Windows Phone, anyway. With an iPod touch, you basically have a mini iPad mini and it’s the least expensive way to get a taste of the Apple user experience. Apple is still making a 16 GB version of the iPod touch 4th generation for $200 that runs the latest version of iOS, minus a few features (such as the Siri voice recognition technology). LockerGnome contributor Harold Johnson was able to find a 32 GB one for around the same price, brand new, during the last Cyber Monday sale, and you can find one on Amazon right now for slightly less than its price on Apple.com. That way, if you find you don’t take to Apple as much as you’d been expecting, you’ll at least have invested in what is still considered by most to be the best portable media consumption device available. It’s certainly still the best music player I have, particularly since it doesn’t rely on any type of wireless connection to play music.

Community: What am I missing here? What would you tell someone who is on the fence about exploring the Apple side of technology?

Image from Amazon