Today, five behemoths — Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft — plus a dizzying array of start-ups are competing to win every dollar you spend in tech. While each of these companies offers a differing set of technologies, they all try to hook you into an ecosystem of interconnected tech.
The trouble arises when you are sold on a tech ecosystem that doesn't prosper. It's likely that at least one, if not several, of today's tech giants won't be around a decade from now. Thus, how do you avoid betting on the wrong horse?
Here's a game plan:
Buy Apple's hardware
Apple's devices are the best-designed and best-made on the market. They are also the easiest to learn to use and the most durable. And they carry a far higher resale value than rival devices.
But the best thing about Apple's hardware is that it maximizes your ability to be promiscuous with software. Apple's App Store is home to more programs than any other app marketplace. Because software is the soul of a machine, you're best off getting the gadgets that can run the widest range of software.
Use Google's services
My phone and tablet carry Apple's logo, but almost everything I do with them is routed through the search company's servers. There's Google's Gmail app for email, Google's Calendar to manage your day, Google Maps to tell you where to go, Chrome to browse the Web and even the otherwise useless Google Plus social network to back up your photos.
Throwing your data at Google is a good idea for two reasons: First, the company is incredibly good at managing it; it lets you have access to stuff on pretty much any device, anywhere in the world, all the time. Its services almost never go down, its data are extremely accurate (see Maps), and, barring intrusion by the National Security Agency, Google offers solid security (like two-factor authentication).
Buy Amazon media
This one is a no-brainer. If you're looking to buy a movie on your Windows laptop today, shouldn't you get one that will also work on an Android tablet you buy tomorrow? Different media providers offer different levels of such interoperability, but books, music and movies from Amazon are the most widely viewable. You can watch and read Amazon's media on Apple devices, Google devices, Amazon's own Kindle line and lots of other places, such as cheap streaming devices for your TV. In contrast, a book from Apple's iBookstore is probably never going to work on an Android phone.
Bet on connectors
In our multi-device world, Amazon's media store functions as what I like to call a "connector" — it bridges the chasm between otherwise foreign technologies.
This gets to the most important principle for dealing with an uncertain future: Invest your time and money in connectors. For instance, store your important documents on the cloud-storage service Dropbox because its business model depends on its working everywhere. And it does. Similarly, when someone hands you a business card, you can snap a photo of it on the note-taking app Evernote, which also functions as a connector, letting you get at your scribbles regardless of which machine you move to next. And in a cloudy future, who knows what that could be?