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OPINION - The future of Apple, Google, Microsoft and others is taking shape, and it rests not just in your pocket but in every aspect of your digital life.

The age of the digital ecosystem is here. Microsoft is finally realising it made a huge mistake in not jumping on the smartphone train earlier, and is now desperately playing catchup to Apple and, to a lesser extent, Google. Traditionally strong PC players like HP and Dell will become the victims as the tech behemoths try to own everything - from your living room to your bathroom.

There's big money in ecosystems. Research shows that the more investment a consumer has in a particular vendor’s products and the way they relate to each other – the ecosystem – the more likely they are to stick with it.

iPhone buyers become iPad buyers and then MacBook buyers, buying a range of cross-platform apps and software while they're at it. There's a consistency of user experience that's tough to beat, and Apple users often become hardcore Apple fans.

Google is trying to do the same thing. Hence Google TV, Android fridges, smart watches, and more. Samsung is also trying hard – by extending Android and perhaps even branching off with the Linux-based Tizen, it is increasingly attempting to keep people within the Samsung fold. That’s why the tie-up with Optus parent SingTel is so interesting. The battle is on.

But this shiny new future isn't without its pitfalls. Users locked into ecosystems are at risk of sudden price hikes, or their technology becoming quickly obsolete. A recent example of this is Apple's contentious iOS 7 update, with some claiming it made the iPhone 4 slow and jerky.

If you've signed up to an ecosystem, with both wallet and heart, you're at the mercy of the vendor. Apple could suddenly decide to double the price of its hardware, and you may have little choice but to blindly follow.

The rise of the digital ecosystems will also mean a decrease in user privacy, as companies and governments realise the extent of the invaluable information at their fingerprints. The camera on Microsoft's Xbox One, for example, was initially rumoured to be always on – a Big Brother style camera in your living room. Now imagine that data combined with input from your smartphone, laptop and fridge.

Welcome to the future, even though 1984 is in the past.

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David Swan

David Swan is a tech journalist from Melbourne and is iTWire's Associate Editor. Having started off as a games reviewer at the age of 14, he now has a degree in Journalism from RMIT (with Honours) and owns basically every gadget under the sun.

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