2013 Was the Year I Went All-In on Google

For the last few years I have been weaning myself off Apple's ecosystem and gradually embracing Google's, but 2013 was the year that I really went all-in on Google. Today my work MacBook Air and home iMac are the only two Apple hardware products I use, and I no longer use Apple's calendar, address book, email, or photo apps.

A transition like this isn't easy and I didn't do it lightly. I've used Apple products for two decades and would still happily use them, but they pushed me away with a combination of ultra fast obsolescence in hardware and OS coupled with slow updates to apps that are important to me (e.g. Aperture, iCal, email), a period of ugly and inconsistent design (iOS 7 is an improvement, but I still don't care for it), and a focus on locked-down, proprietary, centrally-controlled solutions even greater than what Apple has historically had.

Plus I just like that Google appears to be having fun as a company - the doodles, the Chrome experiments, the shake to snow that amused my nephew at Christmas. Google isn't taking itself too seriously. By contrast, Apple just gets more and more uptight and earnest aside from amusing Siri easter eggs.

Transient

So I'm pretty well embedded with Google. I'm not naive - I know Google doesn't give away all this stuff for free or at low prices out of the kindness of its heart. It's using my data for its own purposes, it's selling advertising to me. Some of these services could go away or drastically change with little or no notice.

But for now, my life is largely supported by Google based products, software and services:

  • Chrome Browser: This was my gateway drug into the Google ecosystem, and became my main browser about 4 years ago. I was so impressed by it that it got me interested in what else Google was up to.
  • Nexus 5 phone (which replaced my first Android phone, an HTC One X, which replaced my iPhone). It's an outstanding phone, unlocked at a great price with immediate system updates. Don't worry about its camera, it works fine. Google Now is brilliant, and understands my weird transatlantic accent better than Siri did.
  • Gmail instead of Apple mail. I've had an Apple address since .mac days, then suffered through the various name changes/updates/screw-ups, and finally got fed up with it. Gmail still has remnants of being a Google 1.0 design - lots of hidden keyboard shortcuts, for example - but overall it's a better web-based email platform than iCloud. I still use Apple's Mail application on the desktop to periodically download emails so I have a local backup.
  • Google Calendar and Contacts: These are both pretty minimal utilities: My wife and I use the shared calendar quite a bit (something I couldn't get Apple's calendar to do as well), and Contacts is a long-in-the-tooth utilitarian necessity that could be much better. But Contacts was still better than the skeumorphic monstrosity that Apple had going at the time I made the switch.
  • Google Play Music All Access instead of iTunes. Google has a ham-fisted way of naming its products, and GPMAA is a shining example. God. But the service works really well and has replaced Pandora as my music discovery service, plus it has my existing library. I've long detested iTunes, and the redesign in the last year didn't win me back. I still have iTunes on my desktop and use that to keep local copies of everything, as I don't trust the cloud entirely, but I never play anything from iTunes itself, it's just for cataloging local storage. The Music apps in Chrome and on Android are quite good indeed, and while not without their own interface quirks I find them easier to use than iTunes.
  • Chromecast: Google's quasi answer to Air Play, it works well, it's more limited in what it can do but is not as proprietary. Hooked up to my home theater system, it's a doddle to play music through it.
  • Google+: It hasn't replaced Facebook or Twitter by a long stretch, but it's a great place for photographers like me to share work and join communities of interest. I find Google+'s ways of presenting galleries and individual photos to be superior to, say, Flickr, which still involves a lot of steps to get something basic like a 100% view of a photo. I stopped using Apple's Aperture photo software a long time ago, fed up with slow updates and the actual slowness of the program, and switched to Lightroom, which thanks to plugins has nice integration with Google+ and the main photo hosting service I use, Zenfolio.
  • Google Keep for quick notes and checklists. I'm an Evernote Premium user and Keep is nowhere close to replacing that, but it has replaced my desktop stickies.
  • Google Maps, News, and of course Search for when I need to know something or get somewhere.

There are a bunch of Google services I don't or barely use. Google docs for example; while I like the Google spreadsheets a lot, I just don't have much cause to use them. But 2013 Google really tipped the balance, and I expect Google to have a large hand in running my life as we head into 2014.