Apple ecosystem locks us into iPhone, and for some there’s no way out

All the ways Apple locks us into iPhone [Opinion]

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iPhone survey
I wanted a Galaxy S10, but I'm stuck with iPhone.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

It’s not easy to give up your iPhone. Even if you’ve already decided you want to switch to another handset, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to let go. Apple has you locked in. And for some iPhone owners, there is no way out.

That’s because it’s not just your iPhone that you’d be saying goodbye to. Many other apps and services you use every day — some without even thinking about it — make switching to another platform nearly impossible.

Here are all the ways Apple makes it hard to jump ship and switch to Android.

I used to use Android almost as much as iOS. I owned almost all of Samsung’s flagship devices at one point or another, up until the Galaxy S8 in 2017. (I also used others from Google, LG, OnePlus, and Huawei.)

From Android to the Apple ecosystem

But I made the mistake of falling madly in love with the iPhone X. Apple’s tenth-anniversary handset was the best smartphone I had ever used, and I had no interest in dropping it for anything else.

After getting an iPhone X, it didn’t take long before I was tightly locked into Apple’s ecosystem. However, I didn’t quite realize this until Samsung unveiled its exciting new Galaxy S10 lineup last month.

The Galaxy S10 is the first smartphone in well over a year that has made me consider switching back to Android. But when I sat down and thought about how I might do that, it became clear that it just wasn’t possible for me anymore.

I’ve gotten so attached to Apple’s software and services, and indeed to many third-party iOS apps, that ditching my iPhone is no longer an option.

Here are the reasons why I, and likely many of you, are locked into the iPhone ecosystem for the foreseeable future.

iMessage

Let’s start with the most obvious reason: iMessage. It’s wonderful, and it’s only available on Apple devices. We sometimes see rumors that suggest iMessage could one day come to Android, but Apple has always dismissed them.

iphone
iMessage on Android? Forget about it.
Photo: Apple

There are some great third-party messaging services, like WhatsApp, that you can use on Android instead. And there are complicated workarounds for getting iMessage on Android.

But they’re just not as good. They don’t work with other apps like iMessage does, and they don’t offer as many features. Most of them aren’t as secure, either.

What’s more, if you’re already part of group conversations in iMessage, you might as well forget about them when you move to Android. Switching breaks those groups for you. And unless you can convince all your friends to take the conversation elsewhere, you’re going to get left out in the cold.

iCloud

iCloud is another service that ends up broken when you switch to Android. It is possible to transfer all your iCloud data to Google Drive, or another cloud storage service. You could also access iCloud files through a browser on an Android phone. But it’s just not the same.

The experience is nowhere near as seamless, and it makes it difficult to sync files between your phone and your Mac. You can’t keep backing up your images and videos to iCloud Photos, either.

You still can access your iCloud mail, and sync contacts and calendars, through Google’s apps (or others). But for the most part, you will need to start from scratch when you switch from iOS to Android. And you’ll have to live without handy services like Find My iPhone and Family Sharing.

Keychain

Keychain is now a part of iCloud, but I think it deserves a mention of its own because it’s a big feature — and a big loss for switchers.

You can’t access your iCloud Keychain on third-party platforms, which means all the usernames and passwords you’ve saved in it over the years are lost. You’ll have to start remembering them again. (Good luck with that.)

Of course, you can use third-party password managers like Dashlane on Android. But if you weren’t already saving passwords in one of those on iOS, you’ll have nothing to sync to your new Android phone.

Apple Watch

Apple Watch is, for me, the most important thing on this list. There’s just no way to use an Apple Watch with an Android phone. So, not only are you giving up your iPhone if you switch, but you’ll have to give up Apple Watch, too.

There's no way to use an Apple Watch with Android.
There’s no way to use an Apple Watch with Android.
Photo: Apple

Now, I might be able to live without iMessage, iCloud, Keychain and everything else. I might even be able to accept that all my App Store purchases were a waste of money. But I can’t live without my Apple Watch.

It is by far the best smartwatch on the market, and it does everything it was designed to do spectacularly. There’s no way I’m letting go of that.

Activity, Health and Workout

You shouldn’t be too surprised to find out that without Apple Watch and iPhone, you lose the Activity, Workout and Health apps, along with all the fitness data they wrangle. Google offers its own alternative to the Activity app called Google Fit, and others have theirs, too — but again, you’ll have to start from scratch.

That means all those runs, swims and workouts — and all the medals you earned along the way — disappear. And unlike iCloud Drive, Keychain or iMessage, which you can continue to use on an iPad or Mac, Activity and Health are only available on iPhone.

HomePod

Like Apple Watch, HomePod won’t work with Android for the most part. There are some apps that let you stream music via AirPlay, so you can send tracks from an Android phone to your speaker. But your options remain limited.

You won’t be able to stream music from the likes of Spotify or even the Apple Music app for Android. You can’t set up a HomePod with an Android device, either, so you’re stuck with an expensive cylindrical brick if you don’t have another iOS device at home.

AirPods

I know AirPods work with Android and other third-party devices, but they don’t work anywhere near as well as they do with iPhone, iPad and Mac. Setup isn’t as simple, and you’ll find that connectivity usually isn’t as reliable.

AirPods just aren't as good without iPhone.
AirPods just aren’t as good without iPhone.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

You also miss out on a whole bunch of features that make AirPods special, like Siri, automatic switching between Apple devices, and automatic ear detection. You lose the ability to customize AirPods’ double-tap gesture. And you can kiss goodbye the option to listen to one AirPod at a time. If you don’t take both buds out of the case, they won’t connect to an Android device.

Oh, you can’t check AirPods’ battery level on Android, either.

If you don’t already own AirPods, then, you’re better off choosing a more affordable pair of wireless earbuds if you’re going to be using them mostly with an Android phone. And if you do have AirPods already, just add them to the list of things that aren’t as good without an iPhone.

App Store

Developers keep getting better at making Android as important as iOS. However, there are still a lot of wonderful iOS apps you simply can’t get on Google’s platform. As it turns out, I use many of them — and you probably do, too.

I’m talking about apps like Things, Ulysses, Tweetbot, Deliveries, Copied, Overcast, Focos, Halide, Agenda, Pixelmator and more. I rely on almost all of these every single day, and I love them.

I know I could find alternatives to most of these on Android, but I don’t want to. I’ve already paid for these apps. And they work great for me. They’re beautifully designed and they fit well into my workflows. I don’t need anything else.

Shortcuts

Speaking of workflows, I’ve become obsessed with Apple’s Shortcuts app. I use a bunch of different shortcuts for all manner of things every day on iOS. And I’m constantly on the lookout for more that can make my life simpler and save me some time.

Shortcuts is my favorite thing about iOS 12
Shortcuts is my favorite thing about iOS 12.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

I honestly don’t know how I’d live without Shortcuts now — this feature has become essential to me. And that’s yet another reason why I can’t switch to Android. Just like most of Apple’s apps, Shortcuts is not available on third-party platforms.

iTunes and Books

There are ways to sync your iTunes music to an Android device. In fact, you can upload your entire iTunes library to Google Play Music, then stream it all to your Android phone. Other apps will let you sync your playlists, too.

You will miss out on other things, however. Getting your iTunes movies and TV shows onto an Android device proves incredibly difficult. Plus, there’s no way to sync your podcasts and audiobooks.

Just like your App Store purchases, a lot of the content you bought through iTunes and Books becomes lost when you ditch iOS for Android.

Continuity and Handoff

You will lose Continuity and Handoff if you switch to Android, too. That means you won’t be able to answer a phone call on any of your Apple devices. You can’t open an app on your Mac that you were using on iPhone and continue where you left off. And you can forget about unlocking your Mac using your Apple Watch.

You will also lose AirDrop, which is an incredibly simple and useful way to send content between your Apple devices.

Granted, these might not be essential features for most iPhone users, and you may be able to replace some of them with things like tab syncing in Google Chrome. But most can’t be replaced, and they’re nice to have.

What locks you into iPhone?

Obviously I left some Apple apps and services off this list. I didn’t include anything that’s easily replaceable, such as CarPlay and the Podcasts app. I also focused on the things I find particularly difficult to let go of. Things that therefore make it near impossible to leave the iPhone ecosystem.

What makes ditching the iPhone impossible for you? If you think I’ve left something important off this list, let me know about it down in the comments.