Google, Apple, Microsoft (oh, and Amazon): My multiplatform life

Does it sound crazy to carry three phones or to run Windows on a Mac? Maybe so -- but it sure gives you an interesting perspective on the modern computing universe.

Robert Scoble

I was at the  relaunch  of Microsoft's Bing search engine yesterday, covering it as part of my "day job" for Search Engine Land. Blogger extraordinaire Robert Scoble was sitting next to me and got a kick out of how I had three different phones going: one Android, one iPhone and one Windows Phone. He then noticed I was running Windows 7 on my MacBook Pro and using Chrome as my main browser. Yes, I'm a mixed-up boy.

I thought it would be interesting to reflect why I'm this way and to share a few thoughts about what it's like when you live across platforms.

Carrying three phones sounds crazy, but it makes more sense when you understand it's part of my work. I have to understand how each of the major smartphone platforms operates. Actually, I should probably get a BlackBerry as well, but I just can't quite make myself do it. 

One reason, perhaps, is that RIM's phones aren't connected with the broader internet and technology plays that I cover. Perhaps there's something notable right there. Why would I or anyone bother with a Windows Phone? Because it has some synergies with Microsoft's strong operating system and online services. Why would I not bother with BlackBerry? It's not tied into any of the online services I already use.

Of course, there's a long way for the Windows Phone to go. I carry the Lumia 900, which nicely sends my pictures off to Microsoft's SkyDrive. But one bad "synergy" is that it also wants me to use the incredibly terrible Zune software to update or access the phone in various ways.

Then again, Apple really wants me to use iTunes for my iPhone 4S in a similar manner. The ability to update the phone, manage my music and do other things through iCloud has been wonderful. But when I'm at an event and want to pull a picture off quickly? Could I please just plug the dang phone in and see it show up as a drive rather than using iPhoto? I find myself using the "PC side" of my MacBook Air (more on that in a bit) where I can see the iPhone this way.

Of course, I never know what to expect with my Galaxy Nexus Android phone, when I plug it in. Sometimes it's seen as a drive. Sometimes, the computer just sits there ignoring it.

Accessorizing my phones
I don't actually carry all three of these phones around all the time. If I'm going to an event, and I have a backpack, I might take them all. But I've been fortunate enough to "accessorize" them for particular needs, to decide which one makes sense for the right occasion.

The iPhone is awesome for concerts, sharp pictures, dependable camera and if I record video, the sound is clear. With my Galaxy Nexus, the audio gets all washed out when I record short video clips. Then again, I can almost always depend on my Galaxy Nexus to get a good 4G LTE signal with Verizon. My iPhone 4S, even with AT&T's "4G," can struggle to get a clear signal. That's why for events like this, I sometimes take them both.

The Galaxy Nexus is my go-to phone for trips or just being out-and-about. I know I'll have a solid, fast signal, if I want to push some photos to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or Instagram. I know I've got an awesome GPS built into it. I've got solid integration with Google Voice. I've got a mobile hotspot that works better than my standalone mobile hotspot unit.  Pity about the email still being so bad .

Confession time. I actually have four phones, not three. Talk to me later about hoping that we really do see shared data plans sometime. I could really use that!

The Galaxy S II Skyrocket is my other Android phone, which I use to see how AT&T's 4G LTE network operates (it's excellent), plus to be familiar with Samsung's own flavor of Android. It's a beautiful phone. I like that it still has Android 2 -- Android 4 still hasn't grown on me. It's fast, both to use and for data. I use it often if I'm out for my evening rollerblade. Unlike the Galaxy Nexus, it's easy to see in the sunlight. The iPhone is awesome for outdoors as well, and I love that it's smaller. It just doesn't have 4G LTE.

Windows Phone? So far, that's been mostly useful for when I'm at Microsoft events. It's nice to be rocking the same phone as your hosts. Similarly, that's why having an Android phone is handy for when I'm on a visit to Google. You feel a little less out of place. Should I ever make it to Apple, my iPhone will come in handy there. But I do use Windows Phone as my main device from time-to-time. It's a good little phone. Obviously, it needs to mature. It'll be interesting to see if it grows. Here's also hoping  Google finally makes a Google Voice app for it .

And then there are the computers
Being multiplatform continues with my computers. My main computer is a MacBook Pro, running Windows 7. Crazy? Not at all. Not if you're running three external monitors off the computer, as I do. I find that Windows makes dealing with multiple monitors easier than the Mac. I can toss windows to where I want and maximize them more easily. I have task bars for each screen. I also like Outlook 2010 and Excel for Windows, two of my main programs, far better than their counterparts on the Mac. For everyday use, this combo works.

Why not just use a Windows laptop to do the same? That would make life easier in some small ways. But the MacBook has a great high-resolution anti-glare screen and wonderful ergonomics -- other than the constant heat, of course. Running Windows on it through Boot Camp has been a really great experience.

Scoble saw my main computer yesterday, but that was an exceptional case where I took it on the road. I had to finish a big story, and I needed the slightly larger screen. Normally, I travel with a 13" MacBook Air, running MacOS. It's a beautiful machine.

I stumbled into the MacBook Air two years ago by accident. Heading off on a long business trip, I realized going through security that I'd left my computer at home. I was going to arrive in New York with only an iPad, and after ten minutes of trying to see if it could suffice, I knew I needed a real computer. You know what computer store was open in New York at midnight, when I arrived? The Apple Store.

That's how I found myself in the MacBook Air world. It's one of the best accidents I've ever had. It's an incredibly light, powerful computer that sips power. It comes on so quickly that I stopped taking my iPad out on trips. There was no need. The touchpad is incredibly intuitive and useful, so that I can easily do things while working in the confines of an airplane seat that normally I'd want an external mouse for.

Since most of my data is in the cloud, I can also pick up the MacBook Air and go, without having to worry about shuffling particular files around. Office 2011 is almost as good as Outlook 2010, which also makes life easy. Meanwhile, should I have that rare need to run Windows, I've got it ready to go virtually, using VMware Fusion.

Take two tablets... no, make that four
Then there are the tablets. I've got the latest iPad, a Kindle Fire and two different Android tablets, one from Asus running Android 4 and another from Samsung using Android 3. The iPad sees the most use, quite simply because it works best for the things I want a tablet to do. The Kindle Fire, however, is nice for book reading. It beats the iPad on this score, for me, though I still prefer the regular Kindle readers. My previous column,  My life among the Kindles: Comparing the models , explains more about this.

The Android tablets come out occasionally. There's very little that compels me to use them on a regular basis. Windows 7 is compelling enough to make me use it over Mac OS for some needs. The MacBook Air is compelling enough to make it a choice for traveling. My iPhone has some stand-out features, as do my Android phones. But the Android tablets? Like Windows Phone, nothing really drives me to use them much.

Perhaps that's the biggest lesson of my life across platforms. For a product to be successful with me, there's got to be some compelling features that makes it stick. Being a compelling choice is even more important for those who have no need or ability to use multiple devices. They need one computer, one phone, one tablet. Whatever they choose has to provide stand-out features while also working as an all-around device. 

I'll end by saying one of the best features a device can offer is to play well with its cousins and those who aren't family. Can my Android phone work well with my MacBook? Can my iPhone work with Windows. It's great when the devices have synergies within the family, but I think they're even stronger when they work well cross-platform.

 

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