Thursday, June 20, 2013

Universal Access is being lost!

10 years ago, the web was a way to get information and data on your computer without having to deal with software compatibility and media format compatibility. Browsers were racing to be compliant with the latest HTML version, plugins (Flash) were used to provide a universal media access.

Before that time, our computers were limited by the installed operating system, meaning that a software running under Windows XP wasn't available for OSX and vice-versa. Oh, yes, there were Linux users struggling on their side also. But the web was accessible by all of them since major browsers were (and still are) available on all platforms.

From a simple web page used as a blog to a full blown word processing, the web was transforming into a gigantic app repository, providing solutions to replace native softwares. One example is mail client like Outlook Express or Eudora that were completely replaced by web mail clients, where no configuration was required.

Then something happened... Mobile devices appeared 5 years ago, slowly but surely replacing the old PC for daily tasks such has managing emails, calendars, chatting and media consumption. For the average user today, a computer is not even required as smartphones and tablets can do 99% of their daily tasks.

The thing is that these new devices are locking their users to their ecosystem in some way or another. Universal Access is getting lost without us noticing it. Major apps are available on every device (mostly), media are well supported on each of them. Where are we losing the universal access?

Currently, there are 4 great device families: Apple, Google (Android), Blackberry and Microsoft.

Each of them have an app store, a video store, a music store and some specific services to each brand. Buy a movie on iTunes and you can't easily view that movie on your Samsung. Buy music on Google and you can't easily listen to your hits on your Blackberry Z10.

Of course, you can copy your files on a computer and transfer them from one device to another. But let's face it, most users won't know how to do it thus creating a way to lock them in. It's not a big deal as users do not move from one brand to onto their that often, but Universal Access is being lost nevertheless...

There is now a new trend emerging slowly: extending native brand apps/services to other brands. Messaging services is a good example. Discussions about having BBM (Blackberry Messaging Service) available on other iOS and Android are popping up everywhere. The same goes for iMessage for BB10 or Android. Only Google seems to have taken a step further by providing Hangouts on iOS and on the web for other brands.

Wouldn't it be easier to to have a universal protocol/format to implement messaging services, compatible across all platforms. Oh wait, it was already done by using XMPP... What happened? The new trend is to get your brand app/service on all devices instead of using a universal protocol that every app can implement. If you device does not support Hangouts/BBM/iMessage, you're out of luck!

Imagine that SMS would be deprecated by cellphone providers. This means that there would be no way to send a short message to your friends if they don't have a device compatible with the service you're using. We would have to fallback to emails as we were doing 10 years ago.

If you rely on BBM, you can only chat with your Blackberry friends. If you are relying on iMessage, then only your iOS friends can be reached. The same goes for Hangouts or Skype (Microsoft). Lucky SMS are still available but I wouldn't be surprised for its disappearance in the next few years with all those messaging services replacing it on mobile devices. Then, we'll be stuck, having no universal messaging system... Oh yeah, emails should still be there, I hope...

Are you thinking Facebook as an alternative? Not everybody has an account and not everybody wants to use it has their main messaging service.

Universal Access is being lost, slowly but surely. We'll have to make sure that our new device will support the most common services used by our family and friends, like we did, 10 years ago...

Patrick Balleux

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