published 2022 May | last updated 2022 June

From Google to Apple

This is a one-page website within twos.dev where I detail my multi-year journey of migrating from deep in the Google ecosystem to deep in the Apple ecosystem. It is occasionally updated.

Do not read this in order. Do not read this in its entirety. Skip around as you please.

  1. Why?
  2. Broad Themes
    1. Safety vs. Freedom
    2. Offline-first vs. Online-first Design
    3. Committment vs. Experimentation
  3. Specific Notes
    1. ArchLinux → macOS
    2. Nexus 7 → iPad
    3. Pixel → iPhone
    4. Chromecast/Google TV → Apple TV
    5. Google Home → Apple Home
    6. Pixel Buds → AirPods Pro
    7. Gmail → iCloud Mail
    8. Google Calendar → Apple Calendar
    9. Google Maps → Apple Maps
    10. Google Photos → Apple Photos
    11. Chrome → Safari
    12. Google Sheets → Numbers
    13. Google Docs → Pages
    14. Keep → Notes
    15. Tasks → Reminders
    16. Google Assistant → Siri
    17. Google Assistant Routines → Shortcuts
    18. Google Drive → iCloud Drive
    19. YouTube Music → Apple Music
    20. Google Pay → Apple Pay
  4. Conclusion

Why?

My life is in Google more than anyone I know. The usual suspects sure -- Gmail, Photos, Chrome, etc. -- but also the ones people stay away from -- Tasks, Keep, YouTube Music, Fit, Pay, Play Books, Play Movies & TV, Podcasts, etc. We have more Google Homes than rooms. I was a beta user for the first Chromebook, the Cr-48. I have more scar tissue than most from services being sent to the “Google graveyard”. And for a few years, I overlaid my Facebook profile picture with a Google+ logo and the text “I’ve moved”. Of course, it's no surprise I’ve been an Android user for 12 years, 10 of them on Nexus and Pixel devices.

But once in a while I like to challenge my beliefs by changing seats. This is how I understand why -- or whether -- I prefer what I chose. For Android, that means trialing an iPhone. I did this five years ago for a few months (thanks bensw), but afterwards I thought "It's actually not that different, it's just that the Google apps don't feel native, so I’ll stick with Android".

Since then, I've realized it’s hard to know the Apple value proposition without being immersed in the Apple ecosystem. For the same reason Google apps don’t shine on iOS, iOS doesn't shine if you only use Google apps.

So after a buggy summer with my Pixel 3a, I decided to give Apple an honest, holistic, multi-year shot. Its walled garden may not let me out, but better to trap myself on one side and know both, than trap myself on the other and know one. These are my notes on hopping the fence.

Broad Themes

Before I dump my notes about specific transition experiences, I'll summarize the themes I've witnessed during them.

Safety vs. Freedom

In 2020 I tried to release a Flutter app on iOS. I'd long ago published its Android build, but the iOS approval process was yielding denial after denial. I was frustrated, but I was also a new iOS user, and I could see with fresh eyes the effects of the strictness.

Compared with Android, iOS apps feel like part of the operating system. They don't feel like they were written by others, and that makes me feel safe. My data feels like part of my device, not part of Google. And I trust my device to manage my payment, location, etc. data, because it is mine. I own it.

That feeling is not strong enough that people will voice it, or fight for it. But it's a good feeling. And it only comes with control -- control by a representative I trust, over parties I don't. I don't know app developers, especially small ones. But I know Apple. Through them I can trust app developers, but only because Apple so heavily controls what they can publish. They can't send me to their sketchy site or use dark patterns to trick me into paying them.

Some would say more choice is always better; that if I don't feel safe, I have the choice not to do the sketchy thing. I disagree. I have "the choice" to do a food safety inspection of every restaurant I visit, but I do not want to and I wouldn't know what I'm looking for, so I trust my local health department.

For example, all purchases that enable new app functionality must go through the Apple in-app purchase flow. As a developer, this means Apple takes a cut of everything. As a user, this means one central place where I can manage (read: cancel) subscriptions -- no digging through menus or talking to customer service agents.

Screenshot of iOS App Store showing multiple active subscriptions iOS App Store showing options to change or cancel a subscription
The App Store's subscriptions management menus.

Another example: If your app allows signing in with any third party auth providers, Apple must be one of them. As a developer, this means building another sign-in flow and database table. As a user, this means I get a native, one-tap, FaceID sign-in.

Signing in with Apple.

These examples continue throughout the ecosystem, and the more I see the more I believe Apple thinks of itself as a government providing "public goods", whereas Google optimizes for what increases ad clickthrough -- data, eyeballs, and engagement. Of course, this has its problems. Apple is a private company, not elected officials, so is only as beholden to its end users as it wants to be. For now, the incentives seem aligned.

Offline-first vs. Online-first Design

Having multiple macOS and iOS devices made clear the differences in attitude Google and Apple have toward user data, and by extension user identity. To Google, a user is a Google account first; a device is just a window into that account. The device may have some caching and synchronization to remain useful offline, but ultimately Google's servers are the source of truth.

To Apple, a user is a device first. iCloud exists to synchronize data between multiple devices, but it's just that -- synchronization. Apps usually wait until the device is plugged in to bother syncing, and you can even sync with a cable (or not at all) instead of iCloud.

Here are some ways these differences are expressed:

Part of this local-first approach is charming compared to a monolithic always-online Google account, but it’s not for everyone. I regularly experience synchronization delays and conflicts. Sync settings for a machine are centralized in iCloud settings where they're often off by default. I still can't get one of my Safaris to synchronize its bookmarks with the rest.

Committment vs. Experimentation

Google is infamous for killing products. They release early, often, and in isolation; see Hangouts and Allo, Meet and Duo, or Reminders and Tasks. Innovation comes first and stablizing the product offering comes second, when the product is proven (or not proven) to work.

Apple instead takes the "measure twice, cut once" approach; products are rarely released and rarely killed. The iPod was around for 21 years, co-existing with the iPhone for 12 of them. Apple Maps was a notoriously failed app at launch in 2012 and still suffers from that reputational injury, however it's still around anyway and has improved drastically (although whether enough is still in question).

Google's reputation for killing products causes a negative feedback loop. When Google releases a product that relies on market buy-in -- say, a watch OS (needs app developer buy-in) or a chat app (needs consumer buy-in) -- it's an uphill battle to get the market on board, because it knows Google may turn around and kill the product anyway. This lack of buy-in seals the product's fate, and it goes to the graveyard.

In contrast, Apple's reputation for not killing products causes the market to embrace it with open arms, kicking off a positive feedback loop that ensures its success. iPad needed developers to design for a different form factor to be successful, and they did. Apple Watch needed developers to design watch flows for their app to be successful, and they did.

There are more factors at play than reputation, like developer experience and user experience, but the point stands -- a reputation for killing products contributes to more product deaths.

Specific Notes

Below are my notes on moving between the ecosystems at specific touchpoints.

ArchLinux → macOS

I have used one or another Mac as a development machine for nearly a decade, so this is the only swap not done as part of my mass migration. I grew up gaming on Windows and moved to Linux for development due to a love of the POSIX command line and the simplicity of the system. I found macOS to scratch the same itches without the days spent customizing and debugging things.

Homebrew is as mature as any package manager, similar in ease-of-use to apt[-get] but with on average more up-to-date packages and, including taps, a breadth of packages rivaling even (dare I say it) the AUR. It also bundles its own service management, e.g. brew services start postgresql.

TouchID is a good middle ground for administrative access between Windows security (click yes) and Linux (type your password). It's good enough that it stops me from using clamshell mode more, knowing I'll have to type my password to unlock 1Password here and there.

The app ethos on macOS is that all apps are self-contained .app files, and uninstalling an app is defined as rming that file. It's spoiled me to hesitation when I encounter the rare app that needs an installer.

Roughly half the apps I use are available on the macOS App Store. For apps it manages, it handles updates, payments, and even prompts for review. I generally look there first when searching for an app, then Homebrew (if I know what I'm looking for), then Google.

Nexus 7 → iPad

My minimum goal for a tablet is to replace all at-home phone use; it should give a strictly upgraded experience. As a habit, I carry it room-to-room.

When I used the Nexus 7 as my home tablet, apps didn’t expect one user to be using two devices, so desync bugs were frequent. Almost zero apps used the tablet form factor well or at all, so the UX was usually worse than using the same app on my phone. I expected a more polished but overall similar experience from iPad.

Instead, it’s fulfilled the minimum goal and has even replaced some light computer use. The app ecosystem understands and embraces the form factor; apps use it to display more and differently laid out information. Generally, the extra horizontal space is used to persistently display a nav menu or the previous screen.

A screenshot of the Wikipedia app on iPhone A screenshot of the Wikipedia app on iPad, using extra space for navigation
Wikipedia on iPhone vs. iPad.

A bit ago, Apple rebranded iOS-on-iPad to iPadOS. At the time I saw this as a marketing move, but I've learned they really did push the needle more in the direction of general-purpose computing. The three features that did it for me are:

Only a handful of apps support multiple windows at this time, but being able to e.g. view one email in a thread while composing a reply feels great.

Ecosystem effects of iPad are the ability to use it as a second monitor, and the ability to use my Mac’s mouse and keyboard to control the iPad. macOS’s Preview app allows iPad to be used as an input device for signing documents and marking up images. This is something I did before by manually transferring files, but now it’s two clicks with instant sync.

Pixel → iPhone

I was initially surprised iPhone and iPad lack feature parity. This first came up trying to swipe-type on iPad. Another is iPad can show multiple apps on the screen at a time, but iPhone cannot. iPad has no Wallet or Apple Pay. I felt confused at first, but I see Apple’s angle -- none of these quite make sense on the other form factor. They’d rather deny you the feature than allow using it to be confusing or unintuitive. Infamously, there is no calculator app for iPad because Apple hasn’t found the time to adapt the iPhone calculator design.

The more native apps I use on iOS, the better the UX gets. For example, you can use multi-touch to drag-and-drop items between apps. Third-party apps only implement this functionality sometimes.

Using multi-touch to drag and drop items between apps.

FaceID is about on par with fingerprint unlock on Pixel. They each encounter their own situational troubles, but both are great overall and I'm no more or less happy.

Google Fi

When I switched to iPhone, we had been using Google Fi as our carrier. We decided to stay with it because they'd recently started to officially support iPhone. However, after about a year we found out that Google Fi had been intermittently dropping outgoing SMS messages from iPhones, leading a friend and I to think we were ghosting each other. Once we learned this, we immediately switched.

Even if this whole Apple experiment fails and I go back to Android, I can't see myself trusting Fi again after such an impactful and long-term bug that was never even communicated.

Notifications

Notifications on iOS behave differently than on Android, and that difference makes them feel worse at first. After some time I’d call them a sidegrade.

Android notifications are stateful. If you receive a Gmail notification on your phone then read that email on any platform, the notification goes away. Otherwise, the notification will be there even days later. In this way, Android notifications can be used as a todo list of sorts.

iOS notifications are a feed. In the same scenario on iOS, the notification is (usually) never revoked remotely. Instead, when the phone is unlocked the notification moves to a secondary location “below” (via swipe) the lockscreen. I do inbox zero, so this is strictly worse. I forget to address notifications by committing the cardinal sin of unlocking my phone.

However, iOS mostly fills the gap with badges. Badges are red numbers in the corners of app icons that are stateful in the same way Android notifications are, so can be used as a todo list. I’ve found these a decent enough substitute, although I still prefer Android’s notifications.

iMessage

I finally know why none of my iPhone friends were as excited as me about “solving” mobile chat -- it’s been solved for them for years. iMessage is the gold standard of chat apps. I’m even feeling the guilty urge to nudge friends towards iPhone so I can use it with them.

In classic Apple fashion iMessages aren’t between Apple accounts, but devices. I recently changed my email address but I need to keep my old one in my Apple account indefinitely so my friends’ threads with me won’t retroactively split into two.

Ecosystem effects of iMessage include automatically entering SMS 2FA codes on any device.

Screenshot of a 2FA prompt suggesting an auto-fill from iMessage
Signing into a website on macOS using the SMS 2FA code from iPhone.

Moto 360 → Apple Watch

My relationship with the Moto 360 was on and off. To me it served two functions:

These were helpful functions, but the work of managing an extra battery to charge and an extra device to put on and take off made me fluctuate every six months or so between wearing it every day and not wearing it at all.

Apple Watch adds enough bullet points that I've had no such fluctuations -- I wear it daily:

Apart from the above, the third-party app ecosystem plays ball with Apple Watch a lot more than the Android app ecosystem does with Wear OS.

Chromecast/Google TV → Apple TV

We don’t have HomePods and my spouse forbids me to get any after filling our home with Google Home Minis, so we’ve had to migrate away from “hey Google, play $SHOW”.

The Remote

Apple TV can initiate play from a phone like Chromecast, but beyond that it's pretty remote-centric. The touchpad on the remote is awkward and hard to use; I brush it when trying to click it, causing me to click on the wrong thing.

Otherwise it has a good build quality and feels good in the hand. But it’s a remote and can be lost. We’ve 3D printed a holder for it that attaches to the coffee table. I miss the remote-free life.

Ecosystem effects of Apple TV include typing: when a text input is selected on the Apple TV, a notification shows on my iOS devices allowing me to use them as a keyboard. Password manager support works as normal; this is helpful for invoking 1Password to fill logins.

Google Home → Apple Home

My biggest fear with this change was losing the decade I’ve spent building up our Google Nest devices, but running Homemanager on a Raspberry Pi made it all work seamlessly, even down to Apple TV showing our Nest doorbell camera picture-in-picture when the doorbell rings. (If you’re not keen to set up a Raspberry Pi, try Starling Home Hub.)

The Apple Home UX is miles better than Google Home’s long device list that feels like a web page. This was a strict upgrade. Automation is a breeze.

Ecosystem effects of Apple Home include using Apple TV as your IoT gateway, having home controls in the iOS and macOS control center pull-down menus, and hooking up more devices through automation with Shortcuts.

Pixel Buds → AirPods Pro

Everything you’ve heard about the AirPods Pro noise cancellation is true. Transparency mode is so good that more than once I’ve forgotten they’re in my ears. They’ve more than replaced my Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs.

Ecosystem effects of AirPods include automatic switching between devices based on attention, and Siri integration slightly worse than Pixel Buds's Google Assistant imtegration.

Gmail → iCloud Mail

The big one. I’ve been wanting to switch my email to a domain I control anyway, and iCloud+ supports that.

Migrating

I don’t recommend importing Gmail archives into iCloud Mail; the experience was fraught with landmines and didn’t achieve the desired result. After starting from scratch several times and hitting new issues every time, I’ve chosen to live the life of searching in two places when I need something.

To migrate, I coopted [email protected] from Google Workspace which I had only used for a little consulting. This caused a few minor issues and UX hiccups because Workspace Gmail behaved as if it were still my provider, but DNS wasn't delivering it anything.

I wanted my main Google account to match my main email address, so I tried to use this Google Workspace account as my new primary Google account. But many Google features don't support Workspace accounts, like Google One, family sharing, some security features, and (for better and worse) some types of data harvesting and therefore ad targeting.

So, I tried sticking with my classic Google account and accepting that its email would always be different from my preferred email. I finally snagged my leg on Google Groups, as Groups does not recognize alternative email addresses on Google accounts; I was forced to be presented as my old email address. (Though I did not test if posting via email from [email protected] worked.)

I've now landed on creating a new personal Google account with [email protected] as its primary email address. I needed to delete the twos.dev Google Workspace organization to do this, as it had claim to [email protected] already. Signing up to Google without an @gmail.com address is a somewhat hidden option when signing up for Google. Beware that you can later "upgrade" to an @gmail.com account, but you can never change back.

Daily Use

The iCloud web interface is bad. On my Windows gaming computer I’ve installed Thunderbird to get by.

Mail itself integrates very well with the rest of the ecosystem and has a solid UX at its core, but is plagued paradoxically by usability issues:

Mail's junk filter sorts ~one legitimate email per week into the junk folder, even after months of correcting it.

When attaching large files Mail allows you to send them as iCloud Drive links instead, but I've had recipients experience trouble downloading them.

Mail's search is bad. On macOS, it searches only the mailbox being viewed (e.g. Inbox) by default. Because I do inbox zero, this is never what I want to search. (iOS and iPadOS correctly search everything by default.) When you are done searching and click Inbox to "return home" the search field doesn't clear, leading you to believe your Inbox is empty.

Ignoring that, Gmail still wins search by an order of magnitude. For example, Gmail searches the contents of PDFs attached to emails; I’ve found this invaluable finding old leases and whatnot.

Mail is okay at displaying emails as conversations. Once in a while, it omits something it shouldn’t. When I click Send while replying to a thread it doesn't immediately append my message, causing me to believe something went wrong. I experience long, uncollapsible nested quotes in some emails, where Gmail was always good at collapsing them automatically.

macOS Mail supports filters, but only locally. The iCloud Mail service has a separate filter system with the same effect, but the two have disparate feature sets and don't synchronize. iOS Mail does not support filters. I’ve opted to use Mail’s local-only filters because the iCloud filters can only check one condition per filter, and I just have my iMac stay awake 24/7.

macOS Mail has horrible keyboard shortcuts by default, e.g. ⌘^A to archive. Thankfully macOS natively supports rebinding shortcuts for any app.

A screenshot of macOS's Settings.app rebinding a key for Mail.app
Any app's menu actions (e.g. File → Save) can be [re]bound.

If you want a Mail-like experience with Gmail as a backend, instead of using SMTP I recommend Mimestream; it is written by a former Apple engineer on Mail to have a similar UX but using proper Gmail APIs.

Ecosystem effects of Mail include having search results show up in Spotlight and behaving super well as a multitasking app on iPadOS.

Google Calendar → Apple Calendar

This may be the first service I switch back to Google. Google Calendar is so ubiquitous that I've forgotten how limited and finicky calendar protocols are at their core. So many things just stop working when you leave Google Calendar, all the way down to RSVPs.

I don't recommend using the Week view in Calendar. Like Google Calendar, Apple Calendar uses a horizontal red bar to represent the current time of day; but this bar extends 100% of the width of the week, and does not do a good job showing you which day today is.

A screenshot of Calendar.app on macOS showing a week with a red line across it.
Week view in Apple Calendar. At a glance, can you tell what day it is?

This has led me to misread the current day multiple times, inducing panic about being late for meetings. I now use Day view, where the bar only shows when viewing today.

Mail has no special treatment of calendar invitations, which is to say they appear as raw attachments. When Google Calendar users send a calendar invitation there are two attachments, invite.ics and mime-attachment.ics. Each will pop up a Calendar float to add the event; I’ve learned to use mime-attachment.ics because it seems to open a two-way connection with the sender’s event, where invite.ics seems to be a local copy.

Opening a Google Calendar invitation from within the Apple ecosystem.

Google Calendar is the stickiest part of the Google ecosystem due to the features they’ve built on top of vanilla calendaring and their ubiquity. Interactions with Google Calendar users, which in my experience is everyone, always leave me with a feeling of unease: “did they get this RSVP?” or “did their event update with the new time?”. For some use cases, Calendar will RSVP by sending an email from your account with a plaintext description of your response. I haven’t discovered yet if these are seen by human eyes or interpreted automatically.

Calendar’s UI is prettier than Google Calendar’s, which hasn’t seemed to have a refresh in a decade. Calendar can automatically generate “travel to” and “travel from” events based on the travel time between locations.

Ecosystem effects of Calendar include context-aware Maps and Siri suggestions for navigation destinations and video call links.

Google Maps → Apple Maps

Apple Maps gets a lot of flak for its initial release state, rightly so. But that was years ago, and they’ve kept at it. It’s improved.

Unfortunately it’s only gotten good, not great. There are UX benefits over Google Maps, such as the spoken direction “Go past this light, then at the next one, turn $DIRECTION”, but about 5% of my trips to new places end me at the right area but wrong specific destination. I’ve been routed to the delivery entrance for a museum, the back entrance for an airport, and the wrong parking lot (15 minutes of walking wrong) of a large shopping center.

I’m continuing to give it chances because I know more data helps, but for tight schedules I go back to Google Maps.

Then there's the other dimension of Google Maps: reviews, photos, menus, ordering, and reservations. Apple is a generation behind here; their purchase of Yelp means they inherit photos & reviews, but even that can't beat the sheer volume Google Maps. I've only seen one or two restaurants with ordering functionality enabled.

Ecosystem effects of Apple Maps include rich links in iMessage and Calendar, Siri suggestions for destinations based on those and other sources, and Apple Watch vibration patterns to indicate upcoming turns.

Location Sharing → Find My

I use persistent location sharing with a small set of close friends and family. The Google offering (built into Google Maps) and the Apple offering (a separate Find My app) are similar; anyone happy with one would be happy with the other.

I can see why Apple decided to contain the feature in an app you must launch with intention, but it's a wash for me -- I've had serendipitous encounters enabled by seeing a friend is close by in Google Maps accidentally.

AirTags and device tracking are the big Apple killer feature here, which work as seamlessly as advertised. I threw one in my car and one in my bag just to have peace of mind. The app sends a notification when I leave $DEVICE at $LOCATION, with easy controls to disable future notifications for any such combination.

Google Photos → Apple Photos

Mostly, these two products are equivalent. Apple Photos has more powerful editing tools but Google Photos has more powerful search. Both have similar tooling around memories, viewing photos on maps or by year, etc.

Classically, Google has a better web experience and Apple has a better native experience, meaning sharing photos with others is better if and only if you're sharing with other iOS users.

The migration was simple, but long. Google Takeout produced hundreds of gigabytes of exports, which I downloaded onto a Mac and then imported with Photos.app. Due to Apple's offline-first approach synchronization took place in the background at reduced speeds. This meant it tried to take place while the laptop was closed and charging (even if Photos.app wasn't open). This was jarring at first when trying to babysit the process, as by design it stops performing well when you start using the machine. When I learned to let go, it showed its colors.

Ecosystem effects include unified conversations: when you share content from Google Photos with someone, you and they can comment on photos and albums; when you share content from Apple Photos using Messages, the photos appear inline in Messages. If you want to "comment" on one, you simply Reply to that message.

Chrome → Safari

This was a far less noticeable change than I expected. Everything from bookmark sync to my extensions to rendering works the same.

In macOS the Safari chrome fades into the background better than the Chrome chrome, such that websites feel a bit closer to standalone applications even when in a tabbed window. The touch gesture to go backward or forward slides the page on/off screen allowing you to peek without navigating, but it backfires and feels artificial for low-travel anchor links and some single-page app transitions. It also sometimes reveals a blank page until the navigation event triggers (when the gesture ends) for reasons I can't identify.

When it works it's beautiful and useful, but when it doesn't it's jarring.

Navigating through history in Safari with swipe gestures.

I tend to switch back to Chrome for Meet meetings, as I’ve experienced some webcam freezing in Safari of myself or others (local only); Meet also supports more types of screen sharing in Chrome, like sharing one tab.

Ecosystem effects of Safari include Handoff (move a browsing session between devices smoothly) and the downright bonkers power efficiency of Safari on macOS.

iCloud Keychain

While moving to Safari, I replaced 1Password with iCloud Keychain. It serves basic needs, but that’s it. It can store a username, a password, a 2FA code, and a domain name for each entry.

It cannot store two domains for one entry, e.g. gmail.com and google.com. It cannot store arbitrary notes on an entry, e.g. the PIN that T-Mobile customer service agents ask for. It cannot name an entry, e.g. Washington Corporations and Charities System instead of ccfs.sos.wa.gov. It cannot store non-login entries like documents, ID numbers, or insurance information.

Using the 2FA field involves manual effort. Scanning rarely works, so I enter the 2FA secret by copying and pasting the code. Some sites provide a raw code, while others wrap the code in a URL that contains other metadata. 1Password accepts either, but iCloud Keychain assumes you hand it a code; if you hand it a URL it will silently accept it but produce incorrect codes.

I moved back to 1Password.

Ecosystem effects of iCloud Keychain include faster and more fluid autofill support in Safari, on both macOS and iOS.

Google Sheets → Numbers

As a casual spreadsheets user, Sheets and Numbers are nearly identical. Numbers has nicer UX when editing formulae that visualizes cell(s) being referenced. It tries to humanize references, e.g. “Ben age” for a cell in a row with header “Ben” and a column with header “Age”, instead of A:123. This is nice until headers get long and multiworded. Overall it’s a wash.

Google Docs → Pages

(To be filled in; I have not had much Pages experience.)

Keep → Notes

I value simplicity and elasticity in notetaking -- get out of my way and let me write, then let me deal with it later. Keep supplies that. Its layout is hard to browse, but it makes up for it with great search.

Notes is simple and elastic in a different way. Where Keep focuses on shortform sticky-style notes, Notes focuses on longform, with roughly the same text formatting options as Markdown (unfortunately without the markup). Instead of adding several notes to a category or color in Keep, I append to an existing note that contains several thoughts. This keeps the number of notes down, which makes categorization more reasonable, which improves browsing.

For me, it’s a wash between the two.

Ecosystem effects of Notes include Shortcuts and cross-app drag-and-drop. I use a shortcut to create a new note titled and sorted correctly before starting a Chinese lesson.

Tasks → Reminders

Reminders is one of the best-designed apps on iOS. Reminders can be scheduled to “pop” at a date, a date and time, a location, and/or when messaging $PERSON. Reminders can belong to lists (e.g. work vs. personal), lists can be shared (e.g. family chores), and reminders within shared lists can be assigned to people.

Reminders have a name, description, URL field, and priority (higher priority reminders are sorted higher and given special UI treatment). Reminders can have images attached to them, and any number of subtasks. They can be tagged and flagged.

It’s a powerful app, but everything is presented simply. There is a native macOS app that synchronizes, so I get proper notifications on most of my devices. In app, I use the “Today” view which shows reminders ready to be addressed.

As one use case, my spouse and I share a family reminders list. On that list, a reminder to take out the trash pops every trash day when I arrive home. It’s assigned to me, but if she happens to do it before I get home she can check it off; it then won't pop for me.

Ecosystem effects of Reminders include integration with the share sheet in native apps (e.g. sharing from Safari automatically fills in the URL field) and the ability to persistently show a popped reminder (if any) on my Apple Watch homescreen.

Google Assistant → Siri

Siri is nearly strictly worse than Google Assistant. It can't answer questions like "What temperature do I need to cook chicken to?" or "Who played Alan in Tron Legacy?".

Ecosystem effects of Siri include surface-level interaction with native apps: setting reminders, playing music, controlling Home devices, etc.

Google Assistant Routines → Shortcuts

I can’t say enough good things about Shortcuts. It is the most power-user-friendly thing about iOS and goes against all expectations I had around Apple and power users. For life automation, I prefer it to shell scripts.

A screenshot of a shortcut on iOS
I use Shortcuts.app to block times on my work calendar based on personal events.

As one example, I like to write in an app called iA Writer. I use Shortcuts to automatically commit and push my writing to this website daily. Because iA Writer stores files in iCloud, and another app called Working Copy can interact with Git repositories, Shortcuts lets me glue them together:

  1. (Working Copy) Pull from twos.dev remote
  2. (iOS) Get contents of folder iCloud/iA Writer/Published
  3. (Working Copy) Write contents of folder to ./src in twos.dev
  4. (Working Copy) Stage ./src in twos.dev
  5. (Working Copy) Commit twos.dev with message “Automatic commit by iA Writer sync job”
  6. (Working Copy) Push twos.dev to remote

I’m a software engineer and am comfortable coding, but the fact that I could do all this without any was impressive. It’s also fun to say that my phone is a vital part of my CI/CD pipeline.

Google Drive → iCloud Drive

Most Dropbox-esque apps are the same and iCloud Drive is no exception. Use it if you're in the Apple ecosystem, and don't if you're not. The biggest downside I've witnessed is that iCloud Drive does not have an API. This is not a problem when running software on a persistent macOS or Windows machine, but for Linux or for ephemeral machines (e.g. CI) the only option is an unofficial reverse-engineered solution.

Ecosystem effects of iCloud Drive include a more native sharing flow between your drive and apps (in both directions) and a tendancy for first-party and some third-party apps to use it as a default data store anyway (e.g. Pages saves documents there, Numbers saves spreadsheets there).

macOS also pulls a trick where it allows you to queue up actions on iCloud Drive files that haven't yet fully synced to your machine yet. For example, if you download an image to iCloud Drive on your iPhone, it will show up ~immediately on macOS Finder, then begin syncing. If you try to open the file on macOS before it finishes, the open action will queue until the sync finishes, then execute. This behavior is nice most of the time (compared to the industry standard of trying to open a broken file), but when you first encounter it with a large file like a video it's easy to perceive it as slowness or stalling.

YouTube Music → Apple Music

Apple Music is a great example of the big place Apple still struggles: services.

Importing my music was a headache and missed or incorrectly identified a lot of songs. The most reliable method I had involved an Automator workflow that would move the cursor to my existing library, select and copy a title, then move it to Apple Music’s search field, paste, and add the top result.

The UI of Apple Music for macOS is a let-down and is more on par with the iCloud Mail web interface than with any other native Apple app. Navigation is slow and unresponsive, which is compounded by the fact that it takes too many transitions to get where you’re going. For details on its UX failings, see (Jake from Cinnamon's post)[https://cinnamon.agency/blog/post/apple_musics_ux_problem].

I miss Google Play Music.

Ecosystem effects of Apple Music include tighter Shazam integration and better Siri support for when I’m driving and want to play something.

Google Pay → Apple Pay

I always felt that Google Pay was finicky, and that made me embarrassed to use it. It was hard to find "the spot" on credit card machines to tap. Apple Pay feels more spatially generous; once I start hunting for the spot, it's already been found. It could be because the iPhone NFC chip is located at the top of the device while Pixels have them in the middle, or maybe the world has just gotten better at this since then. I'm now using Apple Pay every chance I get.

The apparent meta for credit card companies in the US is to give customers either 1.5% cash back on everything, or 1% back on everything and 2-5% back on specific categories.

The Apple Card gives 2% back on everything purchased through Apple Pay and 1% on everything else, which is the best deal I've seen. (There are also some merchants that do 3%, but I'm not about tracking and optimizing that.) Of the purchases I make in Seattle, about 80% of shops and restaurants who do pay-at-counter support Apple Pay, and about 20% of table-service restaurants do. For online orders, roughly half of the non-Amazon orders I place support it.

The experience of managing an Apple Card in Wallet is also the first credit card experience that feels like it was made this century. The app is beautiful, snappy, and simple.

Drilling into Apple Card transactions using Wallet.

Conclusion

This is a living document.

Its goal is to document whether the Apple ecosystem is bigger than the sum of its parts. It is. But the more interesting detail I’ve learned is that it’s the long tail of ecosystem benefits that makes up most of that excess. Not the two or three things per product I’ve mentioned above, but the dozens that happen without me noticing that add up to make a more enjoyable experience.

I equate it to working in a clean space vs. a messy space. There are functional benefits to working in a clean space -- it’s easier to find things, spilling a liquid is not as destructive, you breathe in less dust -- but the bulk of the benefit is in the hard-to-describe ways the space feels better and motivates more.

As of 2022 May, I’m overall happy with the Apple ecosystem and would not count it out from becoming my new preference. But, time will tell and I'll continue to document my journey here.