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Convergence Now Means Picking a Side

Yet to an extent it has always been this way and occasionally we have wished it to be so. Most notably in the 1980s it was cool to have a Sony TV hooked up to a Sony sound system, a Sony VHS player and have a Sony Walkman bulging in your coat pocket. Sony knew this and it attempted to capitalise by making proprietary connectors for everything to lock you into its ecosystem.


It went too far: BetaMax, MiniDisc players (above), the ATRAC music format, Memory Sticks, Universal Media Discs (UMD) and more were rejected in search of greater freedom. Sony forgot customer dedication to them was originally earned not enforced.

Yes, there are examples of companies playing nice. Apple still releases iTunes on Windows, Google brings apps of its core services to major platforms, Microsoft's SmartGlass 'second screen' system is allegedly planned to work on rival products and talk of Microsoft Office on Android and iOS continues to gather steam. The trouble is there are far more examples of companies playing nasty. In just the last few months Apple proclaimed iOS6 will exclude Google Maps while HTC ('Connect') and Samsung ('SwipeIt') have made rival AirPlay standards both of which will only work with their own products. Furthermore an industry dogged by endless multi-million pound lawsuits has started its biggest one to date because no-one wants to open up and license or share.

Mountain Lion

So what is to be done? Personally I would like to see new industry-wide codes of practice. Here are three suggestions:

  • Apps bought on one platform do not need to be bought on another
  • All connectivity, whether a port or wireless standard, must be made available for license
  • All user data and back-ups must be interoperable between rival platforms

The point is make it easier to switch ecosystems. The appeal of any particular ecosystem will remain, but it will be based on quality not existing customer investment.

Time was you bought the computer you wanted, the phone you wanted, the TV you wanted. That era seems to have passed and convergence is largely to blame. Yes convergence brings many benefits and yes it is the future, but right now the feeling it creates is of constriction, of dwindling options, of locked-in choices and that horrible feeling that you can't make a purchase without picking a side...

Martin Daler

August 6, 2012, 1:10 pm

I run an Android phone, but my email is via Hotmail. I did have to create a gmail account, but that is as far as it went. There is no reason to actually use it, is there? Certainly I would never synchronise my contacts to google's servers. I just sunc them locally to Outlook on my PC as a backup.

As to the schemes of the big players, of course it serves their purposes to build walls and prevent the comoditisation fo their offering. They don't want to end up like ibuprofen, a 19p packet on the supermarket shelf. The more they can coax/hoax you into 'investing' (sinking money) into their exclusive ecosystem, the more they can charge you for the privilege, since the apparent cost of exit is the greater. The unfortunate truth is that this is a strategy which works to the players mutual advantage when it is copied by all of them, like store loyalty cards.

Russell Peto

August 6, 2012, 1:46 pm

This is a great article, one of the best I've read on the site in a while. One other phenomenon I've noticed with this 'picking a side' is that it also seems to aggravate the Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Google mentality that you see destroying meaningful discussion on tech forums across the web.

There are ways around this ecosystem locking, NAS systems that support iTunes, DropBox for file synchronisation etc.

Is there any mileage in an article on how to agnostically and centrally store your data so that you can once again use the devices you want without losing the functionality?


August 6, 2012, 11:18 pm

I can relate. I didn't mention it in the article, but it came from the fact I use Google for my email, calendar and contacts, an iPhone and Windows 7 desktop and laptop computers.

I like this blend, but I don't get full advantage of any ecosystem. I'd happily go all in on ecosystem to try it, but the commitment and struggle to get out again stops me.


August 6, 2012, 11:22 pm

Many thanks Russell (see my reply above as to where it came from). I actually wrote a paragraph speaking about how this enforced side picking is essentially responsible for creating fanboys, but deleted it because it didn't feel necessary to stoke that fire. That alone tells you everything you need to know about how this has gone too far...

There probably is some mileage is the article you suggest, though you largely nail it: a NAS (all have iTunes server built in), a Spotify/Rdio account and Dropbox will do a decent job. Meanwhile Gmail is a decent choice for your email/contacts/calendar if you do have to pick one of the big three as it agnostic enough to work well on just about any platform.

I'll have a dig and see what else I can come up with :)


August 7, 2012, 1:07 pm

I have been thinking about this article since I read it yesterday. I use a Windows XP PC at work, a Mac at home, an Android Phone and a PS3. Like you, Gordon, I have been unwilling to sacrifice myself fully to any one of these systems, and I tend to rely, where I can, on system agnostic services, such as gmail and Spotify. But there are always limitations.

I can't use Spotify through my AV system at home without physically plugging my laptop into my amplifier. I would like to run it through the PS3, but Sony are too hung up on selling their own music store, which I am not interested in. Equally, all this business being able to display the media from your phone through you TV, using Airplay, or the Nexus Q, is irrelevant if you get your music through a streaming service like Spotify.

I can't help but feel that I am not quite getting 100% out of any one of my devices because I am not prepared to totally commit to an ecosystem. That's the price of compromise. Liveable with for now, but worrying, all the same.

Is the direction that Mac OS is going in good or bad? They're integrating services like Facebook and Twitter, so on the surface of it, that's great. They are making it easy to have a cloud presence, irrespective of the hardware you are using. But that only works if the cloud based services you use are the ones Apple happen to approve of. For me, the killer feature of Google+ has been the Instant Upload of all my phone photos. Its automatic and limitless in terms of storage capacity. This feature completely eliminates the requirement for a manual backup of photos. I don't really use Google+ for anything else (and neither does anyone else, apparently) but this is a really useful feature. What's the chances of Apple integrating Google+ into their OS in the future?

However, despite their proclaimed commitment to openness, even Google don't make it particularly easy to export your photos from Google+. Yes, there's an option to download photos, but only one at a time. There's no batch download, or album download option, unless you use the standalone Picassa software from your client machine. And if you try to download a Google+ video, it does work, but it comes in a bizarre format.

As I said before, it's all a little worrying.


August 7, 2012, 7:11 pm

You hit the nail on the head. Dropbox and Spotify are my agnostic programmes of choice along with the Instacast app for podcasts which is available on most mobile platforms.

Given the acrimonious split between Apple and Google now (even the native YouTube app is being pulled from the iPhone with iOS6 now) I think any chance of Google+ integration is remote. The lack of a successful social networking platform must drive Apple crazy, but if it did have one that - as you say - would be something else to worry about!

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