Apple evangelizers will occasionally reference the "Apple ecosystem" as a benefit to buying Apple products. For me, the ecosystem is the biggest reason I stick with Apple. It works... very well. What do I mean by ecosystem? It's not just the fact that I can buy a song in iTunes on my Mac and play it on my iPhone. Nor do I only mean that I can buy an App on my iPhone and run it on my iPad. The Apple ecosystem is much bigger than just purchased content. It is the spiderweb-like interconnectivity of all Apple devices. Each device was built with intent to plug into the greater ecosystem. My TimeCapsule can restore an entire Mac. My iPhone can stream music to the AirPort Express in the kitchen, or the Apple TV in the living room. My bluetooth keyboard can pair with a Mac or an iPad. Find My iPhone, Home Sharing, and AirDrop are all threads weaving together the ecosystem. Sure, these individual features are available from other companies, but the fact that I can do all of this with Apple branded gear is a tremendous hook into the loyalty of consumers. One support number, one login credential, and one cloud to access it all. As companies continue to grow, and devices become more cloud-centric, our decisions as consumers are going to become less focused on comparing features and specs, and more about which ecosystem this product will plug into. It may even happen when someone might purchase an inferior Apple product in order to plug into the greater ecosystem of services and libraries. iCloud is the branding of Apple's ecosystem. It is an Apple ID turbo charged. Not only do your iCloud credentials grant you entrance to the iTunes stores, but it now acts as the key to access your documents, calendars, contacts, photos, Mac admin password, and even the backup data of your entire iPhone. Your digital life is entrusted with iCloud, your Apple ID. As iCloud gets stronger, so do each of Apple's individual products. Before HP takes on the MacBook Pro, they'll have to compete with the music library and information syncing of iCloud. Before BlackBerry can take on the iPhone (if they're still around in a couple years), they'll also have to take on iCloud's contact and photo syncing. Amazon is actually attempting this right now. Their Kindle Fire stands upon the Amazon account, which hosts your purchased songs and videos. (Unfortunately, early reviews of the Fire itself say that it is a DOA tablet.) Without tackling the behemoth of iCloud, these Apple competitors are just shooting arrows at a war tank. Today, no one can match Apple's iCloud. Amazon has their digital media stores, but with a small catalogue and buggy hardware, they have little traction in the marketplace. Google is probably the closest to competing with Apple's ecosystem, but without a clear, longterm company strategy and unproven Android profits, its hard to say whether its attempts will go the same way as Buzz, Wave, and about a half-dozen other cancelled Google projects. It is not easy to trust Google's fickle product initiatives and lack of customer support. Other smaller companies compete with just slivers of the iCloud pie. Rdio takes on iTunes Match. Dropbox is bumping shoulders with Documents in the Cloud. But, these are just temporary solutions until iCloud's maturity grows to include similar features which they offer. As time goes on, and Apple's products continue to proliferate American homes, the ecosystem will become deeply integrated into our productivity, creativity, and leisure. However, nothing lasts forever. Sometimes, I wonder if my kids will also use Apple's ecosystem, or if they'll look at it the same way I look at my grandpa's Lincoln. It was a great car in its day, but now it seems like a gas-guzzling tractor in comparison to today's sleek and trim Japanese and German cars. Surely, a company will overtake Apple's dominance. Its ecosystem will be with focused vision, thought-out product integration, and an easy method of adoption. But until then, I'm quite content investing my resources into the Apple ecosystem.

Rick Stawarz

Minneapolis, MN

I am an Apple Certified Support Professional with over a decade of experience supporting families, schools, and businesses. Tech has always captured my imagination, but it's not my only passion. I'm an ordained Anglican minister;  Aeropress is a daily ritual of mine; I've driven across Mongolia; and I'm the father of three girls. I hope to provide for you a balanced and realistic perspective into the practicality of technology.