From Apple to Google (and more): My Adventure in Escaping the Apple Ecosystem

Escaping the Apple Ecosystem

Yesterday I wrote about an experiment I’m doing in trying out Google Pixel and Google Fi alongside my iPhone 8+ on AT&T. While hardware has been part of the experiment it hasn’t been the only change I’ve made. In addition to switching hardware I’m giving up on my long-held mantra of trying to stick entirely with Apple’s native software on my devices rather than using the alternatives.

To date I can’t say there has been anything bad about sticking with stock apps such as Reminders, Calendar, Safari, Mail and more. In fact, as all my devices have been Apple for quite some time it made things incredibly easy to do as these are the only apps that can really interact in iOS thanks to Apple’s limitations on the system. They mostly worked for me too. I was able to live with the weird limitations in each app when I never had to worry about them all syncing properly across devices.

The catch is, particularly over the last year or so they often don’t sync as well as claimed and limitations in the various apps, particularly Mail, Safari and reminders have left me longing for good alternatives for quite some time. My switch to Pixel was the catalyst I needed. I simply don’t have a lot of data to worry about about it is the perfect time to start moving off of Apple’s services to those that work best where I need them. Here’s where I’ve gotten so far:

Mail to Google Inbox and Outlook

Unfortunately my work email is MS Exchange. This setup worked OK on Apple Mail but an initial check of email could take up to 10 minutes and putting my work email on my mobile devices caused other problems in the form of device restrictions imposed by system policies in the Exchange system. To make matters worse my personal email account, which links to many development and other resources I need to do my job, couldn’t be checked at all while on my work’s VPN which I need to actually push code and perform most of my job.

As a single cross-platform solution that works with both systems is pretty much impossible and as I work to reduce distractions in my life I’ve opted to split my work and personal email. Work email now stays on my laptops only (which is really the only place it ever needed to be anyway) in Outlook which is, by design, the best solution for the Work exchange account and my personal email has moved to Google Inbox which has both helped cut down distractions and made sure I can get to everything when I need from wherever I need it. In previous companies I hated all my accounts in Google Apps but Inbox actually makes me miss it. It really does a great job at keeping me on top of important email while making sure I’m not distracted by the rest.

Calendar to Google Calendar and Outlook

For the same reason I made the email split I’ve also split my calendar into Outlook for work and Google Calendar for personal and I’m pretty happy with the results. My current position means I really don’t have to worry about conflicting events on the two as I simply work from 9-5 Monday-Friday and make sure that I don’t do personal tasks (with the occasional exception of lunch with a friend). Google Calendar, on the other hand, includes the bulk of my events anyway and the newer interface and its feature set have meant it’s been an important part of my life for quite some time, even if I was limiting it by putting it through Apple’s calendar interface. Funny thing is the only time I’ve ever missed meetings is when Apple Calendar failed to sync them (which has happened a more than I would like over the years).

Reminders to Todoist

I’ve loved Todoist for a while but iOS is a weak spot for it. Notifications don’t always come through and it doesn’t always sync completely to the platform. On the other hand it’s labels, filters and gamification (Karma) are the only system that I’ve actually been able to follow over the years. I’ve tried forcing myself into Apple’s reminders but they always become either too cluttered to be useful or the miss things that I couldn’t find a good way to enter right. To be fair, Todoist still isn’t great on iOS but on Android it works so much better than Apple’s Reminders did on any device and combining it with the desktop app means I feel like I’m keeping up on things better again.

iCloud Drive to Google Drive

This one might change but Google Drive (as well as Google Docs) works quite well for my needs. It isn’t quite as seamless as iCloud Drive in that my computer actually has to be on for it to sync but it backs up the same info and makes it all much easier to access regardless of what device I’m on. As most of my documents are things I need to share anyway moving storage along with documents from iWork to Google Docs/Sheets/Etc was a natural fit and has actually proven quite effective at making sure the documents I need are more easily available where I need them and to those I need to share them with.

Apple Notes to Google Keep

This one will probably change but for the moment Keep lets me get my stuff everywhere. Not sure I’m going to be its biggest fan though. I’ve historically been a big fan of Evernote but I’m not sure it’s worth it with the current pricing model.

Apple Music to… Apple Music

This one, strangely perhaps, has stayed as it is a darn good service. I might give others a try at some point but I don’t feel real compelled to switch this one right now.

iTunes Podcasts to Pocket Casts

Pocket Casts is the only app out there that lets me listen to my podcasts on all my devices and it is light years ahead of iTunes. I actually had a weekly reminder in Apple Reminders to “sync podcasts” as iTunes was so bad at it itself and when I didn’t keep up on it I would get a mess when I eventually tried to listen on a device I hadn’t used in a while. The switch has been great!

Apple Maps to Google Maps

Google Maps definitely has better contextual information but honestly I think I might like Apple maps a bit more still for it’s navigation interface. We’ll see how that goes over time.

Apple Health to FitBit

I really wanted to like Apple’s Health app but I just could never make sense of it in any way that actually motivated me. FitBit just works for me so I’ve gotten myself a new Charge 2 and have gone back to using its app for fitness tracking. This week I’ve walked more than I have in any week at home since switching to the Apple Watch back in April from an old FitBit Charge. I’ll call that a win.

Tweetbot to Twitter

I’ve said for a while that I would leave Twitter if I had to give up Tweetbot. I was wrong. Twitter’s app has actually become a rather nice piece of software and I find it’s presentation and interface keep me from distraction and browsing through extra Twitter feeds more than I did on Tweetbot.

Reeder to Feedly

Reeder was falling behind and Feedly is a really slick replacement so this wasn’t a hard choice. I had kept Reeder to mask the interface of Inoreader for quite some time and avoid Feedly’s 100 source limit for free account but in the end I decided to clean out my feed list and start over which got me well within the free limit and left me with posts I’m far more likely to read.

Breaking free can be refreshing

When I started this post I thought I would have dozens of apps to compare and wasn’t sure how I would do it all. Looking back though I really didn’t use much on my iPhone as there were just little annoyances that made using most third party apps, particularly if the imitate a feature of an Apple app, too much of a hassle. I had exactly 9 apps installed on my iPhone before the switch (now I have a lot more as I’m trying to keep the phone in parity with the Pixel) and the system always just felt limiting. I don’t know yet if all this switch will help or if I’ll just come running back to Apple but so far I do feel like escaping the Apple Ecosystem, even to the limited extent I have so far, has really helped me find the best apps for my work. What else do I really need?