Tech Talk

Our own local IT guru, Ian Posner, gives us advice on home technology

These days people have various tech products and services from different vendors in their homes: You may have an Apple iPhone, a Windows laptop and an Amazon Alexa smart speaker device. Perhaps your email is hosted by Google’s GMail or Microsoft’s Outlook.com?

Getting all these devices to work together can be challenging, when the contact information held on your phone doesn’t align with your email address book and your photos are stored on a cloud different to that of your email provider.

So what can you do to ease the burden of making all this tech work together? The answer is to devise a strategy to simplify the number of providers holding your data and providing you with services.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is where is your data currently and what are the most important technologies you rely on. For many people, their primary interface with the internet is through their smartphone; for others it’s their computer. Perform an audit of your technologies and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have an Android or iPhone?
  • Is your current computer running Microsoft Windows, Apple OSX or Google ChromeOS?
  • Do you depend on specialist software for your computer?
  • Who hosts your email?
  • If you use a Smart Speaker, whose is it?
  • If you have a music streaming subscription, whose is it?
  • Do you have any TV subscriptions? Who is providing those?

Once you have the answer to those questions, you may find that you have more services from one vendor than others. You should aim to reduce the number of services from different vendors in order to get them to work together smoothly. You may also find that some of your providers don’t provide all the services you currently rely on from other vendors:

  Microsoft Apple Google Amazon
Email Outlook.Live.com iCloud Mail GMail
Cloud Storage One Drive iCloud Google Drive Amazon Drive
Music Service (None – partners with Spotify) Apple Music Google Music/YouTube Music Amazon Music
TV Tech Xbox/Windows Media PC Apple TV Chromecast Firestick
Phone (None – adopting Android) iPhone Android
Computer OS Windows OSX Chrome OS
Console Gaming Xbox Stadia
Home Speaker Cortana-supporting 3rd Party Devices ( e.g. Harman Lardon) HomePod Google Home/Nest Alexa
Office Software Microsoft Office 3rd Party (Limited) GSuite
Specialist Software Availability Massive Limited Limited

The first thing that becomes clear comparing the main tech vendors together is that Amazon doesn’t offer the breadth of services and technology offerings the other vendors do. That means that it’s unlikely that you can live entirely within Amazon’s limited ecosystem.

The Apple ecosystem is very comprehensive, but also one of the more expensive – Apple products come with a style/design premium price tag reflecting their own polished products and services. However there is a limited range of 3rd party software and games available. Being a secondary platform for Microsoft, its Microsoft Office versions won’t be as up-to-date as those for Windows. The same is true of the GMail client for Apple iPhone.

Apple don’t have a gaming console offering and their range of software is more limited than that for Windows.

Microsoft have a full offering in almost every consumer product space with the exception of their own phone operating system (Windows Phone was a flop).

Google also have a full offering, but their gaming technology is streaming-based (and only just now launching) so it’s very limited and unproven.

Only Google, Apple and Amazon offer their own home smart speakers: Microsoft have Cortana support in a limited number of 3rd party devices.

Both Apple and Google own their own phone (iPhone/Android) and computing (MacOSX/ChromeOS) platforms. This means either of these vendors can provide a seamless experience across the two platforms. Microsoft are slightly behind here, not owning a popular phone operating system, but Microsoft have made great strides in ensuring that common Windows applications are available for Android (e.g. Office).

Of the three big vendors, Google’s ChromeOS is the most secure, but most limited of the computing platforms. ChromeOS devices are called Chromebooks, Chromeboxes or Chromebases depending upon whether they’re laptops, small computers or all-in-one units. They’re highly secure, fast and cost-effective requiring the least technical know-how of the three vendors.

Summary

  • Try and reduce the number of vendor platforms you rely on for the most seamless experience
  • Only Google has an offering in every technology area. That means with all other vendors, you may have to purchase products services from another vendor. Try and restrict this to one other.
  • If you love Apple products, stick with Apple products and services. You’ll appreciate the synergy of services and products from a single vendor.
  • If you just want the basics of an online life, value security and computing-as-an-appliance, you don’t use specialist business software and want a fast yet simple and low-maintenance computing environment, Google’s ecosystem is a good choice. Google is an especially good choice for the retired as it’s cost-effective, simple and very secure.
  • If you’re tech-savvy, a keen gamer, depend on commercial software (perhaps you run a business), then Microsoft is a great choice.
  • At this point in time, Amazon don’t offer the same range of technology offerings as the other vendors, so you’re likely to need another vendor’s products and services too.

Ian Posner is a freelance IT consultant specialising in performance troubleshooting and optimisation: In his free time, he provides technical help to his neighbours!