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Jeremy Toeman, CEO of Dijit Media, holds an iPad displaying his company’s app NextGuide at his office in San Francisco. NextGuide is an app which acts like a super powered TV Guide pulling in TV show listings to generate a universal viewing guide. (Kim White for The Globe and Mail)
Jeremy Toeman, CEO of Dijit Media, holds an iPad displaying his company’s app NextGuide at his office in San Francisco. NextGuide is an app which acts like a super powered TV Guide pulling in TV show listings to generate a universal viewing guide. (Kim White for The Globe and Mail)

The new tech battleground: Tearing down walls, building bridges Add to ...

Indeed, RIM, which doesn’t have the sprawling multimedia offerings of an Apple or a Microsoft, has become one of the unlikeliest supporters of the effort to bridge the gap between silos. In addition to helping bring Android apps to the PlayBook, the company has developed tools that allow enterprise customers to manage multiple types of smartphones – a move that recognizes the growing trend of corporations allowing their employees to use whatever flavour of smartphone they like at work.

In the coming years, the list of companies on either side of the silo divide will only grow. Carriers and Internet service providers have begun buying app-creators and leveraging movie and TV content in an effort to differentiate themselves from one another. Social networks such as Facebook have also stepped into the battle, expanding their offerings and giving users more reasons to stay within the confines of the site by purchasing content-sharing companies such as Instagram. The efforts are in large part directed toward making it so easy for consumers to stay within one product ecosystem, so that they become permanent customers.

“It’s not just tech companies – wireless carriers are trying to keep you on their ecosystems, it could also be device manufacturers or operating system providers,” Mr. Stewart said. “It’s a classic gold rush.”

There is no shortage of start-ups focused on combining content, features and platforms from disparate sources. But just how easy that task is depends in large part on which sector those start-ups are operating in.

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BRIDGE-BUILDING

There is no shortage of start-ups focused on combining content, features and platforms from disparate sources. But just how easy that task is depends in large part on which sector those start-ups are operating in.

MESSAGING

Level of difficulty: Easy

At one point, developing free end-runs around traditional text-messaging risked upsetting telecom carriers. Today, everybody does it. Several apps, such as Heywire and Fring, allow users to send messages across various platforms, such as Facebook Chat or ICQ. The biggest hurdle to messaging upstarts these days is that the big players, such as Apple and Research In Motion, have messaging apps of their own (although they still don’t play well with others).

MUSIC

Level of difficulty: Medium

There’s no shortage of music services on the Web, from Pandora to Spotify to Rdio. Peripherals makers have also been good at building iPod docks and Web-connected stereos that include access to many of these services. The biggest problem with music curation lies in getting the content in the first place. Music, like movies and TV shows, is subject to all kinds of complex licensing and royalty systems. Add to that the hassles of geographic restrictions, and you start to see why we still can’t get Pandora in Canada.

MOVIES

Level of difficulty: Difficult

Web-based movie services such as Netflix barely make money as it is, and competing products such as iTunes and Hulu each require separate accounts (and, more often than not, will cost you money). The closest you’ll come to finding some of these services in the same place is on an average smart TV. Content exclusivity tends to be a bigger issue in videos than in areas such as music, so if you want to ditch cable, you’ll probably have to pay for more than one service. Add to that the hassles of geographic restrictions, and you start to see why we still can’t get Hulu in Canada.

APPS

Level of difficulty: Difficult, but getting easier

App developers build the same software for multiple platforms all the time, but they would rather not. It costs time and money to build the same app for Apple, Google, RIM, Microsoft and other smartphones and tablets. It also forces developers to bet on which platforms are worth targeting. The holy grail of app development is the universal app – the software that runs on any mobile device.

So far, the best bet for that future is HTML5, a programming language that lets developers build apps that run straight from a Web browser. But that technology hasn’t gained in popularity as quickly as expected, and it does little about the millions of existing apps that only run on one platform. Recently, users of a popular BlackBerry forum were excited by rumours that a developer had managed to build software that allows Apple-specific apps to run on RIM’s PlayBook tablet. But until that technology is proven, consumers will have to wait.

Omar El Akkad

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