Google is slowly taking over my house

If you know me, then you’ll understand how much of a big deal this is.

Only 12 months ago my entire house was almost entirely Microsoft-powered, apart from an iPad Mini for the kids to play with. We had Lumia 640 and 950XL phones, a HP MicroServer acting as our media server, a Windows 10 PC acting as the Plex server, a Xbox One for gaming, a Surface Pro 2 for shared personal use, and 2 x Surface Pro 3’s for work use.

It started with my wife, she had gotten over her Windows Phone not having enough power or apps. She didn’t care whether she went down the path of iOS or Android, the deciding factor came down to the ability to add storage capacity – something Apple does not allow. So she opted for a Samsung Galaxy S7.

Then I wanted a second tablet to play videos on for long drives in the car (my daughters are at different ages, so one wants Wiggles while the other wants Toy Story). We’d tried using Windows tablets over the years but anything low-cost simply didn’t deliver the goods. I opted for a Samsung Galaxy Tab A, and immediately my viewpoint started to change. Where before I had written that the app gap on Windows Phone didn’t bother me – after having virtually every app available to me, my opinion changed quickly.

Since November I too have switched to an Android phone as my daily driver, and haven’t looked back. I started with a cheap-o Umi Super which had a number of hardware issues, and after tolerating it for two months I upgraded to a more stable Google Nexus 5X. And this is where the Google-isation of my house has begun.

I wanted to stream video to my TV, and while I watch content mainly from the Xbox One – sometimes I wanted to watch something off the tablet. I purchased a Chromecast and now use it exclusively for things such as watching NFL games using the GamePass app.

My wife often plays music for the girls so they can have a sing and dance, so she connects via Bluetooth to a portable speaker and moves it around the house. This becomes a bit annoying when the girls keep going back and forth between rooms, so I purchased a second speaker and two Chromecast Audio devices – so now we can play to one room or both at the same time. This gives me a poor-man’s Sonos experience, and for the most part works well.

 

If I lived in the US a big decision point for me would be Google Home or Amazon Alexa. Seeing as most of the house is Google it would make sense that we would purchase a Google Home, especially as they now support multiple users. You can bet as soon as the device is made available in Australia I’ll be getting one or few.

Unfortunately the past year has seen us break from the Microsoft consumer ecosystem in a big way. Firstly the mobile OS was not delivering a sufficient experience compared to other mobile platforms. Then the Microsoft Band was discontinued so my wife and I both opted for the Samsung Gear Fit2 wearables which work with Spotify, so bye-bye Groove.

People who have known me for long enough know that I was vehemently against giving personal data and information to Google because it would use it to target ads. So why did I change? What was it that finally got me to stop battling Google and finally embrace it?

Cortana

Yep, it was a Microsoft product that brought me closer to Google. With Windows 10 on both my desktop and mobile devices I was giving everything to Microsoft’s Cortana service so that it could in turn deliver me a better experience. And while this data won’t necessarily be used to target ads towards me – I realised that I had thrown out part of my argument against Google.

When realising this, and the fact that the Microsoft releases more apps and more functional variants for iOS and Android – what’s the point of staying with Windows Phone?

Upon finally freeing myself from this device and giving myself to Google, I find myself giving more and more because to be quite honest: the consumer experience is far superior. It doesn’t mean that Google technology is better than Microsoft, it means that in the consumer world more vendors integrate with Google and for good reason – Android has become the dominant smartphone platform.

The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, made the company mantra “Cloud-first, mobile-first”. And that is the world I live in now – all my services are served up by the Microsoft cloud for both my professional persona as well as private (eg. I still use OneDrive for my photo uploads from my Google phone).

But my consumer experience: that is now largely Google-powered.

Goodbye Windows Phone, hello Dark Side

I have left the Windows Phone platform again, and this time I suspect for the last time. In mid-2015 I attempted to leave for iPhone but very quickly (3 months) came back to Windows Phone after the release of the Lumia 950XL and Windows 10 Mobile.

The things that drew me back were: Cortana, Live Tiles, Microsoft Band integration and apps, and the promise that we would have the ability to run ported iOS and Android apps on the Windows 10 Mobile operating system.

The hardware of the Lumia 950XL was fantastic, but unfortunately the operating system and broken promises let me down. While I miss Live Tiles it was not enough to keep me on the Windows Phone platform as Cortana was somewhat unreliable, Microsoft Band has been discontinued, and the iOS and Android application bridges and porting never came.

The final breaking point was when I was in the US for two weeks and trying to communicate with my wife and daughters back home. My wife had switched to Android some months ago but as I was still on Windows Phone we couldn’t do voice & video calls via Facebook Messenger so continually had to switch to Skype and then coordinate who was calling who which got frustrating.

While previously I have said that the app gap between Windows Phone and iOS/Android didn’t bother me – it has gotten to a point where it has.

So I’ve switched to Android.

Something I said I would never do. I always said I would never give my data to Google, but after giving it to Cortana willingly for the last year my principles were thrown out the window.

I chose to start with a relatively cheap ($200) Android phone from China as a way to dip my toe in the water before deciding I would throw myself in.

Why did I not choose iOS again? Two main reasons:

  • Hardware and operating system restrictions
  • Lack of choice around form factors, storage, connectors, etc.

When my wife ditched Windows Phone she was prepared to switch to iPhone but the lack of internal storage and the requirement to pay more for internal storage was the deciding factor. She ended up with an Android phone that supported external storage – much cheaper and flexible.

For me it was the same, as well as the fact that you cannot customise the OS appearance. Android won me over with widgets, literally.

While my household is predominantly Microsoft-based (Windows 10 PC running Plex Server, Xbox One, Surface for personal use), the timeline to breaking away for mobiles and tablets has been over time:

With my Windows Phone I had been 100% in the Microsoft consumer and business ecosystems. But as the world turned more and more services sprung up that took me further outside of this. I had hung on with Groove but as the Android client does not even allow me to select alphabet letters to skip to artists/albums the experience started to suffer.

While in the US recently I purchased a Samsung Gear Fit2 for my wife which supports Spotify offline. With our kids are starting to have their own music tastes, and Groove not providing a family account I was left with little choice but to cancel my Groove Pass subscription and switch the family to Spotify.

So my exit from the Microsoft consumer experience is almost complete. We barely use Skype except on the Xbox when my wife or I are travelling for work, and even then it’s rare. We no longer use Groove. The only consumer service of Microsoft’s that still really remain are OneDrive for files and photos, and Xbox Live Gold.

Neither my wife nor I have started to use the Google ecosystem, and instead choose to remain using best-of-breed solutions such as Spotify for music and Facebook Messenger for communications.

Beyond this I have every app I want available in the Google Play store.

And it goes without saying that the Microsoft apps are plentiful in Android – more so than on Windows Phone. Most apps that existed on Windows Phone are fully functional on Android and better to use.

What do I miss about the Windows Phone having been on Android for a month now?

  • Live Tiles: these were fantastic, widgets on Android don’t even come close.
  • Outlook integration baked into the OS: the Outlook app on Android is overall more full featured, but I have to go into it to get my calendar or contacts or synchronise them to my Google account in order to display them. The Outlook calendar widget is good, but it’s no Live Tile.
  • Cortana: she could have been so much, and she is, but not where I want her. I will most likely invest in the Amazon Alexa or Google Home appliances when the services become available in Australia.

That’s about it to be honest. I’ve adapted to Android quickly. There were a lot of choices initially but the benefit of coming to the platform so late in the game is that most of my friends and colleagues could share a lot of tips.

Do I love Android? No. I miss my Windows Phone, I wish it could do everything that Microsoft had hoped it would do. But the world didn’t turn that way and its relevance exists only as a mobile device that could be used as a lightweight computer with Continuum only in specific use cases.

Most of my friends, colleagues and fellow MVPs who clung so hard to Windows Phone have left or are seriously considering it.

I’m sorry Microsoft, I really tried to hold on as long as I could – but it just didn’t work out.