10 Important Tips for Living a Multiplatform Life

multi platforms
Credit: Carlos Verela via Flickr

With the rise of different mobile platforms and content ecosystems over the past decade, the technology world is becoming increasingly fragmented.

Fifteen years ago, there were only a handful of platforms that mattered -- Windows PCs, Macs, and perhaps Linux on the desktop, and primarily BlackBerry in the mobile space. Today, the number is far greater -- Windows (further divided into the pre- and post-Windows 8 offerings), OS X, Linux, Chrome OS, Android (in many varying incarnations), iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Amazon’s Kindle and Fire products, to name the most common. Each of these platforms has become increasingly insular, making lock-in to a specific vendor, device, or OS much more common. 

Although it is possible to switch from an iPhone to Android, or from Windows to Mac, there is often a trade-off in making the switch. Apps, music, ebooks, and other content may need to be re-purchased. There will likely be some learning curve. The offerings in the new ecosystem -- apps or content -- may not match the experience to which we’ve become accustomed, and some may not be available at all. 

Here's some guidance on how to switch platforms.

Understand the limits of each ecosystem that you select .Whatever platforms or ecosystems you choose, there will be pros and cons. Ecosystems have limitations that come in a range of types and sizes. For instance, one con of Apple’s iTunes ecosystem is that much of the content you purchase is designed to function on only Apple devices or Apple-made apps like iTunes for Windows. Limitations can also come in the form of available hardware accessories that are compatible only with certain types of PCs and mobile devices (Apple’s iOS device connectors being one example), accessories or app features that require specific hardware (like Bluetooth LE), or services like streaming content and some cloud and mobile app are available only to certain platforms. 

Look for services and content that functions across multiple platforms. Although many ecosystems are company or platform-specific, some are more open. Amazon is an excellent example, as the company’s Kindle platform includes both dedicated devices and apps that run on a variety of mobile and desktop platforms, complete with sync capabilities across all of them. Microsoft is also beginning to embrace this concept with Office 365, Office for iPad, and OneDrive. Services like Box and Dropbox are also good examples, as are some of Google’s range of services like Google Drive. Make sure, however, that you look at what features are supported across platforms, since there may be capabilities available on one platform that aren’t available or don’t work as well on others.

Choose services and apps that make use of each platform's strengths. This is a bit of a qualifier to the last tip. Although you want to look for solutions that offer a unified experience or capabilities across the board, there are vast differences in the way different platforms are designed and what they offer to developers and end users. Ideally, you’ll want solutions where developers have really tapped into the unique hardware features, interface features, and services available on each platform -- be it the ubiquitous web experience of Chrome OS, Apple’s forthcoming Touch ID security system in iOS 8, or the contact-centric aggregation in Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform. This is much better than an app or service that was designed for the lowest, and thus broadest, denominator and feels like it was badly ported to most or every platform on which it’s available.

Decide how flexible you want or need to be in your choices. Being multi-platform or cross-platform can mean different things to different people. It can mean needing solutions that work across virtually every mobile platform with native apps for mobile and desktop and a web option as an always available backup. It can mean just needing your iPhone to communicate well with your PC. It can mean solutions that are available and work well across Windows Phone, Windows 8.x, Windows 7, and Windows RT devices (which effectively means the entry level Surface tablet at this point). Coming up with a clear definition of multi-platform for your individual work and personal needs, based partly on device or service support, helps you gauge what's too limited and what you can live with.

Understand what you're giving up for "free" services. Nothing in life is free, even if it’s delivered for free. Many services that are free for end users are supported by ads (that you’ll need to put up with) and/or by collecting, packaging, and selling information about you to advertisers. This includes a wide range of services, including most of Google’s consumer services, and virtually all social networks. If you’re comfortable making that trade off, it’s perfectly legitimate to do so, but you should be aware that you’re doing it. Along the same lines, be aware of the limitations of “freemium” services and apps, which are often free for a limited range of capabilities or level of use but charge for better features or additional use like the amount of access, storage, or number of users. It’s worth noting that some companies employ both mechanisms, allowing you to remove ads as a paid premium option.

Determine which is more important: Premium systems or low cost. Not all companies compete in the low cost or free market. Those that do have distinct differences in the hardware, software, services, and support they offer to premium customers versus price-sensitive customers. In particular, Apple competes in the premium space, which allows it to command higher margins than other companies, but it can be successful in doing so because it usually delivers a high-end experience from purchase through setup through support. This choice extends out into cloud services that you’ll use for work, devices that you choose for home, and your choice of wireless carrier or broadband provider. You can even extend the thought all the way to purchasing a car. The best approach: Know what you absolutely need regardless of cost, what you’d like if it’s reasonably priced, and what you can truly live without.

Play around before making a serious commitment. Sticking with the car metaphor, it’s rarely wise to buy a car without taking it out for a test drive . The same idea should apply to all or most of your technology choices. Go to the store and play with the phones or tablets or PCs you’re thinking about buying. Download the free or lite version of an app to try it out. Sign up for a limited-time trial of a service before making a commitment and then make use of it. Whatever it is, use it like you expect to in daily life and see if it holds up. Use features you don’t think you’d use just to see if you might want them after all. 

Know how much lock-in you're willing to accept, and how much it costs to break out. One of the harshest limitations of any platform or ecosystem is getting locked into an extended commitment. This is true with ebooks from Apple’s iBookstore that will always require the iBooks app for iOS or Mac to read, apps that must be repurchased if you switch from iOS to Android (or vice versa), and it is equally true of department or business-wide adoption of a cloud storage technology. Figure out your comfort zone: Know how much lock-in you’re willing to accept and how you’re willing to balance a commitment to a platform or ecosystem versus other factors. For instance, you may not want to invest in ebooks designed just for Apple devices, but you may be much more comfortable investing in both iOS and Android versions of a key app (not to mention the Mac or Windows versions).

Keep in mind that most platforms are still fast-moving targets. The modern smartphone, tablet, and concepts of mobile content and apps really only emerged in the past few years. Cloud services of all stripes are also relatively new and most social networks are a decade or less older. Despite that, all of them -- along with even younger technologies like smartwatches and other wearables -- have massively altered the consumer and business technology landscapes, and the pace of innovation isn’t slowing down. That means it can be difficult to see how platforms and ecosystems will evolve and where they will be even a year from now. Sometimes you have to make a choice based on your immediate needs or best guesses because standing still and waiting simply isn’t a good option. 

This story, "10 Important Tips for Living a Multiplatform Life" was originally published by CITEworld.

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