Monday, April 30, 2012

Inter-Device Connectivity: Deep Cross OS & Platform Integration

Nowdays we talk about deep twitter and facebook integration for mobile / tablet operating systems but no one is talking about deep integration in the laptop and desktop operating systems.

When Apple came out with iOS 5 and over the air (OTA) syncing with iTunes, everyone was thrilled! I was thrilled! The little known yet amazing tweak that apple did to iTunes with OTA updates was that whenever my iPhone logged onto the same network as my laptop, iTunes would pop open. This allowed me to easily connect to my laptop over wifi and access my music library. I do not keep music on my phone. No, i'm not a fool to do that. This gives me more space on my phone and allows me to access ALL 26GB of music present on my laptop. And Airport makes connecting very simple. 

So lets say I enter home and I want to listen to music. I log my iPhone onto my wifi network (which is always on), this starts iTunes and I can then connect to my laptop (which is always on) and switch on the music through my iPhone. So my phone becomes the player, my laptop is the library and the Bose system attached to laptop becomes the speaker. I now have the ideal music system and I'm not tethered to a single position. I can access my music library wherever wifi network is available at home and thus making my life a lot easier and a lot more mobile.

But there was a public outcry to the auto popping open of iTunes as people claimed it used a lot of resources and as a result apple switched off the auto opening of iTunes, so now I'm virtually tethered to the laptop as whenever I want to sync my phone or access the music I have to go over to my laptop and switch on iTunes and wait for it to recognise my phone. This makes my life a whole lot tougher. Apart from that 90%-95% of the times when I start iTunes, it fails to connect to the iPhone over wifi, effectively reducing over the air update feature redundant (what a waste! STUPID Apple).

Why Apple chose the other extreme rather than giving the feature as an option is beyond me and a whole different blog post.

Getting back to topic: This litte feature introduced (and then recalled), elightened me to a whole new world. Steve Jobs by introducing the iPhone & iPad thought ahead towards the future. but after realising the potential, the thinking stagnated to thinking only about revenues and profit which is a major reason why we have not seen any major ground breaking updates in the past few years. With idevices needing iTunes, Apple can effectively think of deep OS integration with Mac and Windows devices.

Deep OS integration: So whenever my iPhone is on the same network my computer knows it’s online and my device can recognise the computer. This opens up a whole new dimension to inter-device connectivity. It'll allow me to access my iPhone and control its features from the comfort of my laptop. I'm at work and my iPhone is my pocket or kept separately on the table. Suddenly I receive a message. I would have to take my eyes off the screen, reach for phone and read the message. But with deep integration there'd be a tiny pop up on the comp, like an email receival alert for outlook or chrome. Now I'll have the choice to dismiss it, read it or even reply to it straight from my laptop. Same thing with a call. I can then answer the call reject it or put the ringing alert on silent, also allowing me to route the call over wifi from my phone to the laptop.
Now isn't that convenience? It’s also something which is allowed by today's technology but somehow nobody is using it. It’s something which was possible when Motorola released its Razr back in early-mid '00s. Installing the software provided along with the phone allowed me to charge as well as use my phone through my computer. 

So if we could do it back then why can’t we do it with the smartest phones produced by mankind till date??? Would the manufacturers please stand up and reply?

Inter-device connectivity is something which is definitely going to happen. If not now, then at a max of 2 years from now. Windows already allows its Windows Phone 7 (WP7) OS to connect to windows 7 and to answer alerts over bluetooth even without any extra software installation.

The much awaited and soon to be released Windows 8 is a big step forward with extremely deep cloud and device integration and connectivity and will certainly make networking with other computer and other windows devices much easier.

People today have not given this deep device integration much thought. This is why many people complained about the resource drain with OTA’s auto open feature. Resulting in Apple removing that feature from iTunes (a definite backward step).

There are ofcourse some major concerns for this kind of technology:

First and foremost is security. How do you keep so much data being transferred over the air secure? Isn't it possible that the phone logs onto a different comp when it logs onto the network? ... There is a very simple fix for this. Let the phone be recognized by iTunes only if the iTunes account is authorized to be used for that phone... the same way it’s done now. Apple currently allows upto 5 computers to be authorised to be used with and sync with any iDevice. The same principle will keep the data being transferred secure and also prevent any other iTunes account / computer from recognising the iDevice.

The next problem is of battery drainage. If the phone is constantly on the network even in sleep mode, wouldn't the wifi drain the battery? Ofcourse it would.. but there is another fix. After the recognition let the comp and phone ping each other with 3-4 pings at regular intervals. This will ensure that when the phone is not being used, both the devices still keep the connection active. Similarly when the phone is being used and is taken out of sleep mode it can send a ping to the comp indicating that it is awake and changing the connection mode from passive to active. This solves the problem of power drain.

Lastly, Apple is trying to make each device independent of each other. This is a good aim and needs to be done. But lets face it; the Earth works only because of the interdependence of the existing species and environments. While each species is independent on their own and in their culture, they are also interdependent with each other. While Bees have their own society they also depend on flowers for food and while flowers are independent of bees they rely on bees for reproduction.

Similarly we need a network of devices which are independent in their own rights yet interdependent to make our lives easier. What do I mean?? I mean that Apple did a good thing with mobile based app store, OTA updates and syncing which made the devices independent in their own rights allowing each device to function on its own. But we need the device to network and to be accessible to each other to increase the efficiency and comfort of our lives.

Something, which is bound to happen in the greater scheme of things. What do I mean again? Well our lives have become largely dependent on gadgets and technology and at some point these devices have to start speaking to each other and allow cross access functionality. This is where automation systems come into play be it Home, Office, car or a public place. Devices talking to each other independently, and not relying on commands and requests from a human has to happen. Look at Google Glasses, it’s trying to do that to a large extent by integrating all the features into 1 device, but it’s a long way to perfection and mass adoption. And that requires a whole new blog post (which is coming soon)

This is one area which Apple and other OS manufacturers have to enter fast. I'm expecting this to be one of the bigger updates for iOS 6.0 in June atleast for Macs if not Windows. If Apple misses out on this then WP7 suddenly would have a large advantage in gaining market share for professionals and the corporate market considering RIM Blackberry's performance.

My post is slightly tilted towards Apple & iOS because 1st, I'm an iPhone owner and 2nd, come on lets face it, iPhone rules this market. Android has greater adaptability only coz of the cost. It as well as Windows follows Apple to a large extent.

Stay tuned for more on related topics.

-> SJ

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