The Apple ecosystem has cropped up a lot in my recent videos and blog posts.
This is for two reasons. Firstly, it is, in my humble opinion, the best ecosystem out there when it comes to both consumer and non-enterprise business tech. Fight me in the comments if you disagree (but bear in mind that, if Windows is mentioned, you lose, immediately).
Secondly, I’m in the fortunate position of being able to get my hands on a significant number of new Android smartphones these days. Most of them are utterly brilliant. Some are better devices than the iPhone. One, in particular, might be the best smartphone I’ve ever used.
The problem is that I can’t switch full-time to Android. I often blame this on the Apple ecosystem and the ability it affords me to copy and paste stuff between my Mac and iPhone. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that it’s actually tied more significantly to the Apple Watch.
Let me explain.
My Android conundrum
The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is, I think, the best smartphone I’ve ever used. I need a bit more time with Samsung’s latest flagship to ascertain whether or not that is the case, but I’m pretty sure it is.
This, understandably, annoys people. If it’s so good, why not ditch your iPhone and go with the S24 Ultra, they’ll ask. I’d ask the same question. This is, after all, a portable telephone – it isn’t the football team you’ve supported since being a kid.
However, I’m not alone in my seemingly blind devotion to the iPhone. Whenever I publish a positive review of an Android smartphone but reveal that I’m ‘trapped’ by the iPhone, among the people calling me idiotic in the comments section lie others who sympathise with my predicament. They also strongly desire to leave iOS and head into Android Land. Some even claim that they are bored of the iPhone and what they view as a lack of innovation on Apple’s part. But, just like me, they can’t switch.
Countless other tech reviewers are, seemingly, in the same boat. Like me, they’ll profess their love for a new Android phone and reveal ten reasons why it’s better than the iPhone, before explaining that the latter is still their daily driver – while wearing an Apple Watch for the duration of the review video, obviously.
And that’s where the problem lies.
Why the Apple Watch gets in the way
Last year, I dipped my toes into two other forms of smartwatchery. The first, and most enlightening, was Garmin and its Epix and Fenix series. I deeply enjoyed my time with both – I still have the Epix Pro review unit, and it’s forever winking at me from my desk, demanding more time on my wrist.
The second was the Samsung Galaxy Watch6 Classic. It has a round watch face, which immediately gets my vote, and is a real looker overall – better and more adaptable, subjectively, than the Apple Watch Ultra’s rugged good looks.
There are problems with both of these alternatives, though. Garmin watches are entirely different animals from the Apple Watch. If you’re a proper runner, athlete, military operative, or hiker, Garmin is where you go; the Apple Watch cannot compete (even the Ultra, I’m afraid, Tim). The level of data Garmin watches deliver is far beyond my understanding of health and fitness and they lack the computer-on-your-wrist feel of an Apple Watch.
The Watch6 Classic (and, indeed, the entire Galaxy Watch series) is hampered by an operating system which just isn’t up to scratch. It uses a combination of Google’s Wear OS 4 and Samsung’s One UI 5 Watch. Last year’s version is the best yet and feels far more fluid than previous iterations.
But it isn’t watchOS.
Why is the Apple Watch so good?
I noted recently that the Apple Watch doesn’t benefit from quite the same deep integration with the Apple ecosystem as other Apple products.
I’m beginning to question that statement.
I don’t rely on the Apple Watch day-to-day in the same way I do the iPhone. I copy and paste stuff between my iPhone and Mac constantly. I take photos on my iPhone and immediately pick them up in the Photos app on my Mac. I transfer images processed on my Mac to my iPhone so that I can use the latter to create social posts. I’d be lost without these two devices working in harmony.
The Apple Watch is different. It is sneakily magnetic because it relies on the Apple ecosystem. This is why it’s Apple’s secret weapon. Buy an iPhone, sign up to Fitness+ and as soon as you start a workout, you realise you need an Apple Watch to get the most from the service.
Head out for a run with just your Apple Watch and AirPods Pro for comfort and tracking, and you immediately never want to be without that level of ease ever again.
The problem is that the latter example is the only instance where the Apple Watch can work independently from the iPhone. It’s both its greatest strength and its biggest weakness. It is indeed freeing to be able to leave the house with a cellular-equipped Apple Watch as your fitness tracker, iPod, and communication device, but it’s never truly free of the iPhone.
What’s more, you’ll notice a significant hit on battery life if you do this regularly, due, I assume, to the Watch’s increased reliance on cellular connectivity and GPS. It is, quite simply, always a bit lost without its iPhone mothership.
Apple knows this. It’s yet another example of an incredibly smart, sneaky way to tie people into its world. I’d wager that most people who have bought an Apple Watch are far less likely to ever switch from iOS to Android as a result.
Mission: accomplished, right, Tim?
Wrapping up: what Apple should do
For this issue to no longer be a problem, Apple needs to untether the Apple Watch from the iPhone completely. You should be able to walk into an Apple Store, pick up an Apple Watch, and set it up on its own without ever needing to connect it to anything but the internet and a cellular network.
That isn’t going to happen. Ever.
The other option would be to make it possible to tether the Apple Watch to an iPad. This isn’t as bonkers as it might sound. Many people carry their iPads around as though they were smartphones (some even use them as their main cameras). I’m not sure how big the market is of non-iPhone-owning iPad addicts, but I bet it’s sizeable.
There’s a marginal chance that Apple might do this. But, once again, it’s highly unlikely.
I therefore have no choice but to conclude that I am, indeed, stuck with the iPhone for now. I’d love to hear from people in the same boat, though – are you similarly ensconced in this issue? Is it an issue? And, if it is, what should Apple be doing about it?