Penny Z. from Ohio writes:
I have a tablet that I like very much, but when it comes to installing programs on it, I get confused. There are things I’d like to put on it, but I can’t find a way to buy them. For example, I wanted to try out one that my daughter uses on her iPad, but I can’t find a way to download it. And there are things I use that my sister can’t find a way to get for her Kindle. I talked to the guy at the place that fixes my laptop and he says it’s because they are from different app ecosystems, whatever that means. Then he said something about walled gardens. To me ecosystems sounds like biology class and a walled garden like something to do with your yard. Can you put all that in English for me?
You’ve hit a nerve with me, Penny. I absolutely hate the term ecosystem when used with apps and technology products, but it looks like it’s here to stay, right along with using impact as a verb. As in, “The ecosystem for your device will impact upon your enjoyment.”
For the purposes of your tablet, ecosystem means the selection of products (like apps) and services available for that device. It could also refer to the types of devices available that use those products and services.
For example, the Apple ecosystem would include iPad and iPhone devices as well as apps, music and books purchased from the iTunes store and the iCloud. Because Apple has what is called a “walled” garden, you must get your apps from Apple through iTunes. You cannot download the app for the Apple store to any tablet but an iPad. You could browse through the store online, but you will not be able to download unless you have a compatible device.
Amazon Kindles operate in similar fashion, though they do make an Amazon app available that you can read on other devices. But you cannot access features like Prime Video or the Kindle Owners Lending Library on any device but a Kindle. You purchase apps for the Kindle in the Amazon App Store. (You can modify a Kindle’s settings to allow you to install Android Apps from other sources.)
Both of these devices really operate as appliances that access their ecosystem. So when choosing tablet, it would be important to consider if you have purchased a lot of iTunes music or maybe have a whole lot of eBooks from Amazon.
Android is different in that Google makes that operating system available to all manufacturers, so you’ll see an endless variety of devices running on Android and all of them will be slightly different. You’ll find apps for Android devices in the Google Play Store, which you install as an app on your device.
The same is true for Windows tablets as well as all Windows 8.1 computers, you’ll find apps just for those devices in the Windows App Store. (though you’ll also find full desktop PC programs in that store that will only install on devices capable of running them.)
The big difference between the traditional PC and a tablet, is that with a tablet you really aren’t buying just the hardware. Your apps and music and eBooks may be available through your tablet, but they really live in the cloud that is part of your ecosystem. Yep, every ecosystem needs clouds and that’s a big part of choosing your tablet. In the past, if you lost your laptop, you lost everything on it. And unless you had done a recent backup, you were out of luck. If you drop and break your iPad, Kindle or Android tablet all of your stuff is safe in the cloud. You don’t have to repurchase anything. You can buy a new device, turn it on, sign in and have instant access to your apps, books and music.
Your iPhone or Android phone would also be part of that ecosystem and you can use many of your apps and access your music, books and videos from those devices as well. And with Amazon’s phone expected to arrive by fall, you may even be able to access some Amazon Prime Video features not previously available on phones.
The downside to this security is that your garden is walled. So no bringing in apps from the outside and no putting those apps on other devices. On the bright side, most really popular apps are available on multiple devices.
Another analogy I like to use is that apps are like vacuum cleaner bags, belts and filters. You have to buy the ones that fit your model.
Hope that helps.