Lessons From Going Cross-Platform

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Cross Platform

Here’s the industry’s dirty little secret: each major platform, be it iOS, Android, or Windows/Windows Phone, is good enough to be considered life-changing technology. Yes, users tend to favor one platform over another, to the point of fandom and complete ignorance of the other two, and that’s just fine. These things are intended to enhance our lives, make us more productive, provide us with seemingly limitless sources of entertainment–but most certainly not to serve for the vast majority of people as hobbies or professions.

For most people, then, smartphones and tablets and notebooks and the entire litany of technology options serve as tools, not toys. And people tend to choose a tool and stick with it, to save money, hassle, and the need to constantly learn new things about things that they probably just don’t care about.

I’ve never been one of those people. I have used, and continue to use, a variety of technology as tools to perform all the usual kinds of work, having been in sales and marketing for quite a few years. But technology itself is also a passion, far more than just a hobby, and I enjoy learning about new technology and discovering new ways to make use of it. That’s the focus of this blog now, in fact–to identify how technology can make us more productive in our personal and professional lives.

Yes, I’ve Been a Fanboy
I’ve also, admittedly, tended toward fandom, sometimes identifying with a given piece of technology or platform to the point of being downright insulated. For example, I was a huge webOS fan back when the excellent little mobile OS was a remotely viable entity, and I focused very much on its strengths while ignoring its weaknesses and the strengths of its competitors. In my defense, neither Android nor iOS were as far along as they are today, and my insistence that webOS was fundamentally superior was a tad more justified. Today, however, I would be hard-pressed to take the same position, given that Android Lollipop and iOS 8.X have borrowed from webOS and each other to the point where they are both good-to-great platforms in their own rights. And of course Windows Phone has also advanced, and is now itself an excellent platform suffering only from lack of developer support–something that I anticipate Windows 10 will help rectify.

Following the market failure of webOS, I embedded myself in the Android camp, not being so much a fan as someone who wasn’t willing to lock myself into what I perceived as Apple’s walled garden nor to invest in Windows Phone, a platform that truly lacked widespread support and seemed much like webOS in this respect. During my Android years (around two, to be precise, but quite a long time in gadget years), I pooh poohed iOS and Windows Phone and went from one Android device to another in frenzied enjoyment of that platform’s hardware diversity.

In truth, though, what I was really doing was missing out on some great things as a technology enthusiast, and limiting myself as someone who sees technology as having a profound impact on our lives as productive human beings.

All of that changed when I chose to follow Microsoft’s lead in going more cross-platform. Yes, I’d previously been exposed to iOS via an iPad 3 that I purchased because of it’s industry-leading (at the time) “retina” screen, OS X via a MacBook Air that I bought because it had the best keyboard then available (and that makes a great Windows machine as well through Boot Camp), and I continued to prefer Windows over OS X and so remained firmly in the Microsoft camp everywhere but smartphones and tablets. But when I bought a Surface Pro 3 and a Lumia 925, I discovered the potential of Windows on touch devices and the joy of using Windows Phone, and a recently purchased iPhone 6 has convinced me that iOS on smartphones is a very compelling platform for both its unparalleled app support and overall smoothness of operation.

An Embarrassment of Riches
In short, we suffer from an embarrassment of riches when it comes to technology platforms. If someone waved a magic wand and made two of the three major platforms disappear–any two, it doesn’t matter which–we’d be left with something special. I, and I submit anyone, should be perfectly happy if the only choice was iOS/OS X, Android/Chromebook, or Windows (even more so Windows 10). We wouldn’t exactly be suffering, and any complaints would be the whining of entitled petulant children moaning about first-world problems.

That’s not to say that a person can’t prefer one platform over another. Some people like the smoothness, elegance, app support, and ease of learning of iOS. Some enjoy tinkering, customizing, and maintaining deeper control over all aspects of their devices and so will prefer Android. Yet others enjoy the “glanceability” of Windows Phone, its productive workflow, and the generally consistent performance across a variety of devices. And that’s just speaking of smartphones.

But in the end, I do feel suitably chastised for having argued that one platform or another is fundamentally superior and, more important, others fundamentally inferior. I won’t make that mistake again, even if Windows 10 reasserts Microsoft as a viable player in all markets going forward. I can argue about the business practices of various companies, such as Apple’s elitism and hyper-consumer focus and Google’s existence as an advertising company masquerading as a technology company, but that’s incidental to the question of whether or not those company make good technology products.

The Cost of Staying Relevant
The short answer is, they all do, and they all have their place. If I’m going to evaluate and recommend technology solutions to productivity problems, then I need to make sure I keep up-to-date with each of the major platforms. It’s an expensive proposition in both time and money, but well worth the effort. Anything less would make me into a fraud, and render my opinions entirely one-sided and therefore worthless.

Microsoft has been simply brilliant in implementing their cross-platform strategy, for different reasons perhaps, but following their lead has been entirely instructive. I’ve learned a great deal from doing the same myself, and although I don’t recommend it for everyone, if you’re in the business I suggest that you, too, break out of whatever corner you’ve painted yourself into and at least experiment with everything else that’s available. You might find it instructive as well.

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