In libraries we worship interoperability, in the abstract at least. We believe it is an unalloyed good.
My snappy interoperability tag is “recombinant potential”: things are interoperable to the extent that they are capable of being combined or recombined with other things.
We are traveling with a laptop, head phones, two cell phones, a Blackberry, a digital camera and three iPods (two Nanos and a shuffle). I am sure that there is other stuff I am not remembering or do not know about 😉
This requires us also to carry a variety of chargers, and, as they are US devices which we want to use in Ireland, a couple of adapters. Can we mix and match these, combining chargers and devices? Using headphones with the cell phone with music on it? Of course not, or only in limited ways.
I mentioned the other day that I had left my laptop cable behind. Can I borrow somebody else’s laptop cable? Of course not. And we need to find another way to charge the iPods.
Sure, there is a small industry creating various ‘recombining’ devices, but this requires additional thinking and investment, something we are not organized or inclined to do.
Now, I am sure that I could rustle up a literature on the economics of all of this, suggesting why vendors are interested in this level of lock-in. But for the moment, I just wish that their recombinant potential were higher, reducing our traveling clutter and increasing our convenience.

3 thoughts on “Interoperability?”

  1. Lorcan,
    At the All Things Digital Conference this past May, Martha Stewart bearded Howard Stringer, the chairman of Sony, during a Q&A period. She had a shopping bag full of the many cords and chargers she needed to make all of her Sony devices work. She complained for five minutes about why she needed so many things. He acknowledged that it was a problem that had to be addressed and suggested she ‘needed a native bearer’. Good old Sir Howard.
    Good picture at

  2. This made me think of an article in the Guardian about ‘Power over Ethernet’ I read some time ago – a quick search revealed it was actually 4 (going on 5) years ago –
    “The classification 802.3af may not sound very promising, but it is the first international standard for delivering electrical power and, as such, is set to change the world.”
    It uses the ability to charge laptops as an example of how it could be used.
    Unfortunately as far as I can see the only pieces of kit taking advantage of this is networking kit (switches, routers etc.) – what a shame…

  3. For what it’s worth, a number of devices seem to have started to center around the micro-USB interface for both digital communication and for power. For instance, earlier this year my wife and I got new cell phones from different manufacturers, and I was quite surprised and pleased to learn that we only needed one charger on the kitchen counter to handle both of them. It also meant that I could charge both my phone and my wife’s phone via a laptop sync cable (even though her phone isn’t a syncable “SmartPhone”) when we were on vacation last month. That eliminated the need to carry a separate cell phone charger entirely.

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