Google & Apple's Ecosystem Gravity

This is reply I posted to a thread on the Google Glass Explorers message board. Specifically, it outlines my experience using Google Glass with my iPhone. More broadly however, it describes the sometimes subpar experience of relying on an iPhone for Google services like Maps, Gmail, and Calendar.

I'm in the same boat: MacBook Pro at the office, Air at home, iPhone 5s, and iPad Air. I too tried an Android phone (Moto X) for a few weeks to see if my Glass experience would be any better. There were certainly some benefits (more later), but nothing so remarkable that I'd pick an Android phone over my iPhone 5s. For one thing, I think apps on iOS are far better than their Android counterparts. For another, the 5s is years ahead of the Moto X, which felt more like an iPhone 3GS in daily use, especially the camera.

What are the benefits of running an Android phone with Glass? As far as I can tell, there's 3:

  • Data over Bluetooth tethering is more battery efficient than turning on the iPhone's WiFi personal hotspot
  • The iPhone has better battery life than the Moto X, so my battery lasts longer even with using its personal hotspot for Glass 
  • SMS text messages conversations on your Android phone show up on Glass

I installed the Hangouts app on my iPhone and politely asked/convinced/coerced my closest family and friends to always text with me through Hangouts. The hardest sell were my iPhone-weilding friends who still ocassionally iMessage me, whether accidentally or malicously I don't know. I can't stress enough how having my closest family and friends use Hangouts is making Glass a better experience.

Glass can use the phone's GPS without needing you to open the MyGlass app

Sadly, I don't there's anything Google can do about this one. The user has to open some app that can communicate with Glass in order to make use of the iPhone's GPS. I do think it'd be more useful and intuitive to have the user open the Google Maps app instead of MyGlass, though.

As far as the ecosystem features, like calendar, email, photos, and music, I've been living most my digital life on the Google island already.

Mail & Calendar

I've been a Gmail user since 2004 (10 years, holy crap!), so I've been happy with its integration on Glass. The same goes for calendars, though I've bounced between Google Calendar and iCloud a couple times, I haven't found a reason iCloud's calendar storage is any better. I also started using a somewhat "hacky" solution of syncing my work calendar, hosted on my company's Exchange server, with Google Calendar, by using Sync2. This way, I can see all my events on Glass, but don't have the convenience of separate, color-coded calendars. 

Contacts

I keep all my contacts filed in Gmail's "My Contacts" group, which separates them from the 16,000 odd address I've ever emailed with, thus keeping my iPhone's contacts nice and clean. Of note here, I use Apple's Mail, Contacts, and Calendars apps on both my Macs and iDevices, so I don't actually use Google's web apps to interact with my data all that much. (Save for the Mail app on Mavericks which butchered Gmail integration. Awful Apple, just awful.) 

Photos

For years I had my photos in iPhoto with the library file inside my Dropbox folder to keep it backed up in the cloud. However, let me just say, Google+ Photos is really, really, really nice. I absolutely love that the Google+ iOS app uploads every picture I take at full resolution completely seamlessly in the background. I moved all my old photos and albums from iPhoto into Google+, choosing to keep most of them private. It took less time than I expected to upload than I expected---I did one album at a time and the whole process took about 90 minutes. (I also started using Google Drive to hold all of my files instead of Dropbox since most of my documents are Gdocs anyways.) 

Music

As for music... well, let's just say I have a huge music collection. I'm one of those people who wishes Apple (or hell, anyone) would make a 128 or 256gb phone. I had also been a subscriber of Rdio and/or Spotify for the past couple years, using either one in conjunction with iTunes. It always bugged me that my music collection lived in 2 places: iTunes for everything I owned, Rdio or Spotify for everything I'm dabbling with. So when Google Play All Access came out last year, I was very, very happy... initially. It's taken a while for the ecosystem to spring up around it, with a quite nice official iPhone app out now, and several options for listening on the desktop---I prefer the gTunes app on the Mac App Store for listening on my Macs as it displays Notification Center pop-ups on song changes and supports media keys. I also have a Sonos system at home, where I use Macronos and a Raspberry Pi to connect the Sonos to Google Play. All that being said, I don't use Glass for listening to music much because a) there's no "keep on device" caching like the iPhone app has, and b) the sound from the stereo earbuds for Glass gets drowned out by the noise of the train I ride on my daily commute.

Now, I'm not saying every Apple user can or will move parts of their digital ecosystem the way I have, but hopefully you can learn from what I've done and even improve up on it. I'm definitely an Apple user who has swallowed Google's "blue pill" :)