iPhone vs Echo: How Apple and Amazon Build Different Visions of Your Future

smart speaker

Photo: Getty Images / Yagi Studio

We’ve already entered tech launch season, which spans the next few weeks as top sellers identify the products they want us to buy over the holiday season and into next year.

But the thing that has changed recently is that many big sellers don’t want to sell just one product to you.

Instead, they want to sell you on their bigger picture – an entire way of life that might be yours. Of course, it’s a way of life that’s only enabled by their tools — and the subscription services they hope to sell you, too.

also: The Smart Home Show: What Amazon’s Device Strategy Is Really About

We’ve recently seen two of the biggest tech giants, Apple and Amazon, try to do just that.

These competing visions — the iPhone’s iPhone versus Amazon’s Echo if you will — also say a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of those companies, and how they see the tech world evolving in the next few years.

At first it was Apple, with the new iPhone 14 and Apple Watches. For Apple, there’s no doubt that the iPhone remains central to its personal tech world, even as the Watch and AirPods become increasingly useful connected items.

The smartphone in Apple’s vision is not just a useful tool but a vital companion. It’s something that can help you now even if you’re in a car accident or lost in the mountains.

You could argue that these new features, which will only be useful in very ambiguous scenarios, are a clear sign that smartphone innovation is running out of ports to fill. But regardless, Apple’s position is that a device in your pocket – or perhaps on your wrist, or in your ear (and possibly above your eyes) – is the way to go.

Then there’s Amazon — and the company is doing a very powerful presentation on ambient computing.

Its products — obviously the Echo speakers (the new versions of the Echo Dot and Echo Dot with Clock, which arrived last week), but also the Astro robot, the Halo Rise sleep-monitoring watch and more — aren’t things you wear or carry but are devices in the home from around you.

The Amazon vision seems to be one in which intelligence is integrated into things that can recognize you, understand what you want to do, and then do it for you.

also: iPhone 14 Pro vs. iPhone 13 Pro: Is the Latest iPhone Worth the Upgrade?

None of these visions of the future are complete.

Apple sees the iPhone as the center of the tech world because that’s where its success lies, and where its revenue comes from. It may dominate smartphones, but so far Apple hasn’t had much success in the smart home. Amazon, of course, has dominated the smart home with its Echo and Alexa ecosystem. She made her own smartphone, but the project was a costly failure, which is why ambient computing in the form of a wide range of cloud-connected devices is where she sees the future.

There are other big differences between the two. Apple sees personal data as something its customers often don’t want to share with Big Tech, while many Amazon services rely on learning more about users in order to offer more personalized services. Don’t tell the full story about the future of technology: a smartphone or watch isn’t the answer in every scenario, but again there’s a long way to go before ambient computing offers the same level of utility as the ability to look at a screen on a smartphone or on your wrist.

These visions are not mutual. In fact, many of us probably live in these worlds simultaneously, using Apple and Amazon products. But it is difficult to see how they can be reconciled. Perhaps at some point another tech company will figure out how to combine the two different views of the world, but until then expect these competing visions to coexist, albeit difficult.

ZDNET opening on Monday

Monday’s ZDNet editorial is our opening for this week in technology, written by members of our editorial team.

Previously on ZDNET’s MONDAY OPENER:

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