My tech investments used to be in audio and video products — turntables, amplifiers, CD players, TVs — and the LPs and discs to play on them. When I replaced a player, it was about making the sound or picture better in an appreciable way. I remember hearing new details in the Super Audio CD version of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue that blew me away even though I had heard the tune hundreds of times before on vinyl, cassette, MiniDisc and CD.
These days I find myself buying into an ecosystem, a term that originally referred to biological communities in nature but has been co-opted pompously by the tech world. When the word first began appearing to describe the hardware and software (device and content) bubbles tech companies were forming, I had to convince editors that it really was a thing, not just trendy jibberish like “paradigm shift.”
Amazingly, I trotted out the word myself Saturday at a relaxed, outdoor lunch with friends after someone brought up Apple’s upcoming news conference. My friends, who live in the Android ecosystem, suggested that perhaps the Apple announcement was just a way to make its loyalists buy something new that they didn’t really need. I think I even saw a smirk.
I found myself jumping to the defense of the primary ecosystem I inhabit, explaining how the integration among iOS products can be convenient and useful. In fact, just that morning, I proudly told them, I enjoyed such an interaction between my Apple Watch and iPhone.
I told them that when juggling an armful of stuff while waiting for my partner, Liz, to pick me up at the street corner, I realized we hadn’t determined which corner that would be. I didn’t want to go fumbling for the zipper on my handbag, take out my phone and then plug in the passcode since my phone can’t facially recognize behind a mask (apparently Apple has an upcoming fix for that). So I pressed the button on my Apple Watch to so I could make a Dick Tracy-style call from my wrist.
The first thing that came up on the tiny watch display was something about the HomePod mini speaker in the living room, which was a little annoying especially since, of the three smart speakers I own (Amazon Echo, Google Home and the HomePod), I use the HomePod the least — and never from my Watch. I swiped that away and found the phone icon and had started to dial when I saw Liz arrive in the car.
Turns out I didn’t have to make the Dick Tracy call after all. It would have been interesting to see how well we could have heard each other from the streets of Gotham, but that’s for another time. In any case, after my friends’ eyes glossed over at the discussion of the iOS ecosystem, the ladies who lunch steered the conversation to what everyone was streaming on TV.
That night, a funny thing happened when we got home, about seven hours after Liz picked me up on Sixth Avenue. “Aw,” Liz said, having gotten to the apartment before me: “You left music on for the cats.” Except I hadn’t. My watch had somehow. And the HomePod was playing loudly, and randomly. Something classical was playing from my iTunes library when Liz walked in; that was followed by Santana when I arrived. Chris Isaak’s Blue Spanish Sky followed that, then a track from Hamilton.
Putting together the ecosystem puzzle, I realized I had somehow engaged, completely unintentionally, the HomePod mini in the living room when trying to place a phone call from my Apple Watch on the street. I thought I had scrolled past the HomePod screen on my phone; apparently I made it play instead. The watch didn’t ask me if I wanted the speaker to begin playing, or at what volume level; it took off on its own. Any neighbors who happened to be around that afternoon not only heard loud music coming from an unexpected apartment but a completely random playlist of songs that shouldn’t play anywhere near each other. I cringe thinking about Silent Night playing two weeks after Easter. It makes me glad I’m wearing a mask these days.
I tried to see what had played while we were out. But when I looked at my watch, it showed a travel playlist I listen to on airplanes. I looked at iTunes on my phone, and it showed the last Mary Lou Williams album I listened to. It seems HomePod went rogue and destroyed the evidence.
I’m not exclusive to the Apple world. I have a Kindle, and I appreciate that ecosystem, too. I buy a Kindle e-book, and it’s on my device before I can punch in my passcode. And I have to admit, I fall for the Amazon come-ons. Last week Amazon began taking preorders for its next generation of Echo Buds, the new category of earphones oddly dubbed by the industry “true wireless headphones.”
I don’t need more earbuds. I have two pairs of Apple AirPods that work beautifully. But I’m a sucker for a deal, and Amazon is always dealing. In this one, if I preorder Echo Buds within a certain window, I can get them for $99 rather than their $119 list price, or $109 with a wireless charging case versus $139.
It’s not the discount that grabbed me so much as the offer of a free six-month trial to Audible, Amazon’s audiobook service. That’s a service I don’t subscribe so I’d like to give it a whirl on Amazon’s dime. It’s 50-50 whether I’ll fall for this come-on, but time’s ticking, and I’d better decide soon…. the Amazon ecosystem is waiting.