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Apple's Getting Closer to Walling Off Its Garden

The company is selling Apple itself, and it wants you to buy as much of it as you can.
Believe in its mighty power. Image: Apple

Will the Apple Watch be the company's next big thing? Who knows. You can find plenty of sure-minded opinions on the subject proclaiming that it either will or won't be, and one of them is probably right. Unless it winds up somewhere in the middle.

The one thing that did become clearer than ever at yesterday's event, though, is that the real product the company is selling is Apple itself, and it wants you to buy as much of it as you can.


Developing its own ecosystem and keeping customers within it has been instrumental to Apple's success, of course. Apple's always been trying get people who buy an iPhone or iPad to also buy a Mac (or vice versa) and it's been pretty successful at it.

But there's also been plenty of people happily using an iPhone with their Windows PC, or an Android phone with their MacBook. While there are some drawbacks to those combinations, they're soon going to be far less attractive options.

The first sign of that came at the company's previous big event, its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. The most interesting thing to come out of it wasn't the latest versions of iOS and OS X, but the new feature that links the two of them together, something Apple calls "Continuity." It will let you do things like start a task on one device and continue it on another, or use your Mac or iPad to answer a call on your phone.

The catch, as you might expect, is that it only works if all of the devices are Apple devices, and the company itself is upfront about that fact. In his keynote address at that event, Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that its "devices and services all work together in harmony," and that they "provide an integrated and continuous experience across all of our products."

It's "something only Apple can do," he added. Apple's website further proclaimed that "the best devices now bring out the best in each other" and are "connected like never before."


As Walt Mossberg and others noted at the time, the company's real goal in all of this is to get you turn to Apple for as many devices and services as possible, and provide some real disincentives for you to turn to any competing products.

This is the crucial point: buying into Apple's ecosystem now doesn't just mean getting apps and media that work across devices, but gaining additional functionality from those devices, including Apple Pay, which looks to be one of the more attractive mobile payments systems on the market. They're accessories to each other as much as they are standalone devices.

To be sure, a more closed and deeply linked system brings with it some real advantages that aren't possible otherwise, and it's something that Google, Microsoft and others are also exploring to various degrees. But those advantages also come with trade-offs, and costs down the road, that may not be immediately evident for someone just looking to buy a new phone.

The Apple Watch (which actually requires an iPhone), and the company's new Apple Pay service, take things yet another step further by linking the ecosystem to even more activities and devices. And, in the case of the watch, it's an example of Apple attempting to create an upgrade cycle where there wasn't one before.

After all, the device it's nominally trying to replace—the traditional watch—is a more or less permanent object, which people can use for decades before replacing. The same can be said for the wallet, which Apple is also hoping to eventually replace with your phone, or your Apple Watch (or both). The question is: how many devices will you be willing to upgrade every two or three years?

Given how personal the watch is—even "intimate," as Apple has described it—it could also be the device that's most deeply entrenched in the company's ecosystem, serving as a persistent connection and interface for all other devices. The other side of that is that one's choice of watch (even if it's to not wear a watch at all) is also a decidedly personal one, which is just one thing that could make the Apple Watch a harder sell than a new smartphone or tablet.

Regardless of whether the watch sells well or not, though, the ecosystem it's a part of will likely only continue to expand and grow even more entangled as additional devices, services and daily activities become a part of it. You may not be able to find your way out of it, but Apple seems to be betting you won't want to.