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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.

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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.

But it struck me that this is yet another example of how conflicting compatibility between hardware and services can frustrate consumers, making us regret our purchases even of otherwise fine devices. In the competition between different standards, between online services, and plenty of other areas, there's often fallout that can make it hard to be a user of tech products.

Which car works with my phone?

The conflict I dread the most is between Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto. It would seem silly that our choice of smartphones would dictate which kinds of cars we can buy, but what if the maker of your preferred car only provides in-car entertainment systems that support Android Auto?

This situation puts carmakers and the companies that supply the in-car entertainment systems for their cars in a difficult situation. Rather than pick either Apple or Google, most of them will have to spend more time and effort integrating both systems. And quite right. Can you imagine going to a Volkswagen dealer and being told that your iPhone's no good there? (RelaxVW was early to announce Android Auto support but has since indicated it will support CarPlay, too.)

Why aren't Siri and my house on speaking terms?

Another potential mess and less likely to see a solution as simple as, "what the hell, support all the things!" is the home automation/internet of things market. If you buy products in this category, you run the risk of having them end up on the wrong side of a divide between different interests.

I bought a Nest thermostat before the company was bought by Google. I still love the product, but it's unclear if it will ever work with Apple's HomeKit technology. I've got a few LIFX smart light bulbs, and again, it's unclear whether they'll be compatible, partially compatible, or entirely incompatible with whatever comes next. The same goes for my Belkin WeMo switch. (My Dropcam is another product acquired by Google via Nest, so it works with my Nest, at least.)

Fortunately, sometimes even if these Internet-connected products aren't built to work together, they can work via an intermediary. So far the most promising one of these is IFTTT, a clever service with a nerdy name. IFTTT stands for If This, Then That, and it's basically a cloud-based scripting service.

 

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