Corporations exist to make money and that’s fair. But a lot of times, the pursuit of money gets in the way of customer satisfaction; a simple case is the lack of customer service personnel simply because to save costs. In the technology world, there is another inconvenience that keeps popping up and ruining our lives – the war on standards and formats.
Even the most tech illiterate person in the world know what this war is, when companies keep changing ports/formats praying that it becomes the standard choice for customers, simultaneously making competitors who are utilizing a different format get into trouble.
The latest case involves WhatsApp, or more precisely Android and iOS (iPhone), and the trouble users face using the messaging app when changing between the operating systems. Thankfully, there is a seamless way to do it now but in the years before this, it was impossible unless first having to pay third-party developers for a complicated transfer system.
The cause of it? Because both Google and Apple (in this instance, especially the latter) leans on their cloud storage systems to make a decent amount of money, i.e. Google Drive and iCloud. Considering how popular WhatsApp is (currently at around two billion users), there is not enough motivation to allow for easier switch between the two camps. * note that phones running Android or iOS does not necessarily need to subscribe to the paid version of Google Drive or iCloud, but WhatsApp needs it to create back-ups; ironically so that the app can be used on different phones.
The history of format wars
Arguably, the format war started between Sony (Betamax) and JVC (VHS). Unfortunately for Sony, they didn’t quite understand what the consumers wanted and after a war that lasted roughly 10 years, VHS won.
So JVC won? Not quite, because in order to get consumers’ approval the VHS format was also made available for other manufacturers, namely Hitachi, Sharp, and Mitsubishi. Sony, on the other hand, wanted to control Betamax for maximum profit.
It goes out of control for our benefit?
Every electronics manufacturer since then didn’t quite learn from Sony. All of them wanted to exert control, but none could manage their own issues. With the rise of personal gadgets, proprietary docks became widespread for those who wanted to sell their own idea of innovation.
Apple again demonstrates this perfectly well when it introduced the awkward 30-pin plug for some products and killed the accessory market for MP3 players, only to move on to different plugs later on.
Other phone and MP3 are guilty too with their constant change between different USB standards. The reason is because technology moves so quickly that every company is rushing to bring it to consumers as soon as possible. Useful features such as faster charging times and quicker data transfers are only possible due to improvements in USB technology which is why we saw most mobile phones and other peripherals go from USB A to Mini USB to Micro USB to USB 3.0 and USB C in a few short years.
Where do we stand
As consumers, we actually hold the power to dictate what becomes a ‘standard’, as proven by the Betamax vs VHS story. Now, there is also another helping hand in the form of consumer rights groups and legislators. In Europe, USB C will be the common charging port for all mobile phones beginning 2024 in order to reduce e-waste. It remains to be seen if other regions or countries will follow suit, but it surely is a step in the right direction.