The Hills Are Greener: Protocols Protocol

The Hills Are Greener: Protocols Protocol

Oct 17, 2011

So iOS 5 was released to the public this past week, and with it a variety of useful new features for iOS users. Notification Center, while it does borrow a lot from Android’s notifications, is a much-needed improvement. iCloud features are useful and there’s just lots of little fixes that make the iOS experience much better. However, the problem is that Apple has introduced yet another proprietary standard: iMessage. This allows any iOS user to send text, photos, and even videos, to another user from within the Messages app. Even iPod touch and iPad users can message other iOS users, and iPhone users have a unified solution for SMS/MMS and free iMessages that use the data plan.

Except that this is not entirely designed as convenience, or as a way to stick it to the carriers; instead, this is designed to promote vendor lock-in. This is meant for iPod touch and iPad owners who may not have an iPhone as their phone to become tempted to get one. After all, won’t it become a pain when trying to communicate with friends who have iPhones when not around wifi? Wouldn’t it just be easier to have an iPhone so iMessaging is just what becomes used when communicating? That’s exactly what Apple wants. They want to sell more Apple products, not promote open standards. Apple promised that FaceTime would become an “open standard” last year when announcing the feature; there are currently zero products not made by Apple that are able to use FaceTime. I sincerely doubt that Apple will be even attempting to make iMessage usable outside of Apple products.

This is the kind of vendor lock-in that hurts innovation and competition. Open standards and protocols are in use because they allow for different platforms to talk to each other. It’s why SMS and MMS took off. It’s why we can email anyone. Open protocols are good for everyone, and Apple trying to promote their own protocols for the sake of improving their own products seems dangerous and potentially monopolistic. Google at least is interested in creating services that work over multiple devices and operating systems: Android voice calls use Google Talk video calls and work on PC, Mac, and Linux devices as well. While there isn’t an official app for Google Talk video calls on iOS, third-party solutions exist, and Hangouts through Google+ are available as well. In fact, this is because Google Talk is based off of XMPP and uses standard cross-platform open protocols for their services.

I will not call Google angels trying to promote open protocols solely for the good of mankind, because they are a business after all, and they are trying to make money. However, their actions and services they run show a concern for open access in a way that Apple does not. Apple wants to sell more Apple products by creating services that run solely on Apple products. Google wants users to use Google services, but on whatever device they choose to run it on. That is the difference between iOS and Android: one is far more committed to openness than the other.