Tech Savvy: Playing nice in the sand

Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! I was asked this in passing the other day, and I get a number of comments on this subject, so I thought it would nice to touch on this often confusing item: What devices will work with my accessories and vice versa?...


Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! I was asked this in passing the other day, and I get a number of comments on this subject, so I thought it would nice to touch on this often confusing item: What devices will work with my accessories and vice versa?

Many of the accessories and devices you see are made by well known companies and are pitched for their devices - Apple, Samsung, Motorola are some that instantly come to mind. They offer a wide range of accessories: headphones, cases, speakers, etc., that are branded for their smartphones and tablets. Most recently you have seen a surge in smart watches that are made as companions to well known phones. The Samsung Gear, the Apple Watch (still coming) and the Motorola 360 are made to be used with their respective company's phones and often have specific programs or apps that are made for the phones.

Many people wonder though, will the Apple Watch work with my HTC phone, or more commonly, will an Android watch made by one company, work with any other Android phone? What about all those third party manufacturers like Bose, SMS Audio, or Beats, how do they know that their products will work for everyone? Or at least the vast majority?

Let's take a look at some of the things that go into making products compatible with different devices and what may or may not work in different situations.

Physical limitations have a large part to making sure products are compatible. A good example is Bluetooth. Bluetooth uses what's referred to as a radio - it's not exactly like the radio you listen to in your stereo, but it is the same concept. A Bluetooth radio can transmit and/or receive Bluetooth signals and translate those into a recognizable format, like audio. In order for it to communicate with another Bluetooth signal both devices must have Bluetooth radios. Seems simple right? If you want your device to use Bluetooth it has to have a Bluetooth radio. Where this sometimes gets sticky is not all devices have the same traits. Bluetooth, like any other technology, has had improvements over the years - they are now on Bluetooth version 4.0. What this basically means is that the technology has improved to the point where some earlier version, and devices that use them, may not be able to communicate as easily or at all. Think of it as trying to use a Morse Code module to make an audio phone call or send an email.


As you start to look at expanding what accessories you use, or new ones to use with a device that is nearing two years or more, make sure you check the compatibility information for the hardware. You will also want to take into account the horsepower you have in your processing speed of your device. Some apps and accessories will not work, or will not perform at top quality if your device doesn't have a processor that can handle the workload you're trying to impose.

This is also true of the software or OS version that you may be running on your device. Some apps, programs or device accessories may or may not work unless you have a minimum level of OS. I'm sure all of you have heard of some of the issues where someone will not be able to download a new version of the OS, like iOS 8.2 or Android Lollipop. These are different versions of the basic software the runs on devices. Many apps have developer kits that app makers use to create the apps. One thing they must take into consideration is which versions of the OS they want the app to be able to run on. Most are backward compatible for at least a couple versions - meaning that they will automatically work for some earlier versions but not all. At some point, the developer has to build a completely separate version of the app for non-compatible versions.

Mainly this will affect apps, and not so much accessories, unless the version of OS has significant changes that are based on some of the hardware capabilities. This may affect what apps you choose to use, and how long you anticipate using them.

For accessories, many of the third party products will work for many devices as they anticipate people using different devices will still want their products. A good example are headphones. The SMS Audio headphones I've reviewed in the past use Bluetooth technology and easily pair with my HTC Android phone, and my iOS iPad. They, along with many other audio device companies, also include a standard audio jack and double-ended cable not only for if the battery dies but so that people who like the audio quality can use it with non-compatible devices like old iPods or CD players.

In many cases third party manufacturers have built in safeties like this in the majority of their devices. They want as many people to be able to use their products as possible. It may seem a little confusing at times if you look at some devices, like the SMS Audio Speaker that I've reviewed also have a really awesome Near Field Communication (NFC) feature for activating and inactivating the speaker. Well, awesome that is, if you're an Android or Windows user. Apple doesn't have NFC integrated with their products. Have no fear though, it doesn't change the end user experience - which is what the manufacturer, and the consumer, are most concerned about.

Sometimes the device manufacturers throw accessory makers, and developers, for a loop though. Most often it comes in the form of physical changes to their devices. If the latest phone version changes the way the camera is situated, or a power buttons moves, or most notably, if the size changes like the iPad to the iPad Air, this can cause much unrest for third party groups.

The iPad Air is one of the best examples of this in recent years because they had maintained a consistent size and, for the most part, exterior shape. But the iPad Air was significantly different in multiple dimensions and those that had a stockpile of iPad accessories like cases, keyboards and backs, all of a sudden couldn't use any of them with their latest iPad.

It's unfortunate, but sometimes this is just what happens - for the most part it would not affect most audio accessories, or other pieces that were not physically attached to the device, but then the question comes up- what do you do with all the extra stuff you have laying around?


You can have some luck re-selling to people that did not upgrade, or who bought a second-hand device, there is still a vibrant market for used devices that are in good condition. However, you should expect to get back less than what you paid, often significantly so. I would encourage you to also consider donating those accessories, often groups may have the devices, but a shortage of accessories because of the initial cost- you may be able to tap into small organizations that have a need like this.

All told, when it comes to most third party apps, they are multi-device compatible, you just need to keep a few key things in mind: OS requirements, hardware specs, and physical traits. If you are in doubt, do a quick Google search, check the FAQ on the product site, or even send the manufacturer an email - they are usually very responsive if you ask.

There are a lot of great products out there, and you'll be able to use more and more of them in the coming years.

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