It's a good time to be a tech consumer. As various companies clamor for you to use their services over others, you ostensibly get to pick and choose the ones that best meet your needs for things like cloud storage, music purchasing, email and other services. Plenty of startups offer one-off solutions here — consider Dropbox's bare-bones hard drive in the sky — but when we're talking about "ecosystems" of services, we're really only talking about the heavyweights. This means Google, Apple, Amazon and, to a degree, Microsoft.
Google's Android operating system serves as the brains for countless devices from many disparate manufacturers. Its Google Play store is the go-to destination for getting content on these devices — music, movies, TV shows and apps. E-commerce giant Amazon has forked the Android OS to power its own line of Kindle Fire tablets. These are devices that still technically "run Android," but they run a proprietary version that locks you into Amazon's own ecosystem — the Amazon app store is distinctly isolated from Google Play. Developers who want to see their apps on a Kindle Fire need to issue new versions of their apps entirely, submitting them through Amazon's own channel.
Android has a fragmentation problem due to all the different hardware manufacturers making devices to run the software. Simply put, not all Android devices will run all Android apps. This stems from the varying hardware specs that may or may not meet software demands, whether it's a specific app or an upgrade to the overall OS. Consumers end up being the ones to feel the pinch, as the purchase of one Android device doesn't necessarily mean they have access to the wide world of Android apps. That said, native Google functionality on these devices for de facto things like Gmail and Google Drive is no problem.
Microsoft's problem is one of consumer relevance. The numbers suggest that, by and large, people simply don't care that the desktop operating system magnate has a mobile branch to its business. The company's attempts at relevance in the mobile consumer market have only ever flopped. Considering the platform's mere 2.5 percent market share as of Q2 this year, developers hardly feel the pressure to create compelling software for Windows Phone users. There's no financial incentive to do so.
Apple's family of iOS devices are fed by its famous "walled garden," the curated App Store that sees developers submitting their apps and hoping that the company will grant them access. (The apps in Google Play go through no such process.) Developers are most eager to find a home in Apple's App Store because success there is of the mainstream variety — although Apple takes 30 percent of any app sale that happens within its confines, the App Store is the birthplace of nearly every blockbuster game you've heard of.
Apple customers are no strangers to spending money, and developers are glad to have their eyeballs when they can. The company says it's sold more than 800 million iOS devices and has just as many iTunes accounts linked to credit cards. If you want to build an app of consequence, you better be developing for iOS. Despite the political ramifications of not being "truly open" — developers need their apps to be approved, and you can't alter any functionality of your device that Apple does give you permission to — the company has by far built the most cohesive ecosystem. You have the choice of using Apple's own cloud service, iCloud, or installing corresponding apps that meet the same niche.
Google is similarly cohesive, though it draws a different crowd. These are generally people turned off by Apple's closed system and want more specific control over their devices. That said, Google Play is not nearly the financial powerhouse for app developers that the App Store is; success there doesn't really approach the success to be had in the land of iOS. This is why we frequently see apps landing on iOS first, only to be followed up on Android once they see some sort of status on iPad or iPhone. Google Play presents itself as a large secondary market to tap into after cleaning up in the iOS world, not so much as the place to go to first (though many developers do this).
If you were choosing to commit entirely to one company's mobile ecosystem, Apple would be your best bet. Because so many developers opt for an iOS-first or iOS-also approach, there are virtually no gaps in its offerings. Microsoft is the least desirable choice for this — all you'd notice are the apps that you were missing out on. Amazon has its own difficulties in this space as well. As the Kindle Fire is just one line of Android tablets amid a slew of others, it represents a much smaller slice of the market, though Amazon has done a far better job of recruiting developers to re-release their content for its platform.
If you want to have access to relevant apps and function competently in the mobile world, the one wrong choice is Microsoft's Windows Phone. The remaining three platforms — Android, iOS and Amazon — do a surprisingly good job of communicating and interacting with all other relevant service providers like Netflix, offering numerous cloud storage solutions, and providing access to current apps. Follow the consumer dollars, and they lead to these three.
Heck, even Microsoft's OneDrive has an iPad app.