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Why compatibility isn't just a computer problem anymore

Jason Snell | July 7, 2015
Some people I know who dearly love their Sonos speaker systems were feeling nervous this week as Apple launched Apple Music. Would Sonos support Apple Music, and vice versa? Some tweets from Sonos and Apple made it clear that it would, and those Sonos-using friends gave a sigh of relief.

I can connect all my smart devices to IFTTT and then program them to work with one another. For example, I can wire my WeMo switch to turn on a cooling fan when the Nest reports that the temperature in my house is above 75 degrees. At the same time, it could tell my smart light bulbs to turn blue, just to let me pretend that I'm not as hot.

The problem with all of this is that it's unclear how products using Apple's HomeKit will work with these other systems. HomeKit has some specific licensing restrictions that make it unlikely that non-HomeKit products will be able to connect to HomeKit devices directly. Perhaps IFTTT will be a bridge, but it may also be that I'll have to replace the products I've already bought because they don't work with Siri.

Stuck in the middle

This is not just the computer industry's problem, of course. If you're a cable subscriber who's wanted to watch a TV series that's only available on DirecTV, or an AT&T wireless customer who wants to stream live NFL games on your phone (a service only available on Verizon), you've felt the pain of industry competitors trying to force you to switch to their product in order to get the thing you want.

I've never been a fan of this approach as a consumer, because it makes me feel used. I'm not switching to a service because I actually like it; I'm switching because they've got something I want and are going to hold it hostage unless I pay them. It also sends a message that a particular service isn't actually worthwhile on its own it's only worthwhile because they've paid someone a lot of money to create an exclusive item. Sure, the food was terrible, but I got this great toy out of it.

So whether it's technological reasons or competitive reasons, I hate it when mom and dad fight. Here's hoping that Google, Apple, and everyone else in the tech industry try to work together to let us use the accessories we want to use. Nobody wants to be told to throw out $1000 in audio equipment in order to switch streaming services, and nobody wants to have to buy a different brand of car because of the smartphone they choose to use. Compete all you like, as long as your customers aren't the victims.


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