Editorials Back to Babel? November 16, 2009 Share 1 -- If you ever watch "Star Trek," you might notice that when Starfleet crews encounter some alien transmitter or ancient message, they simply plug it into their system and understand it. Technology rarely gets in the way. Nobody on "Star Trek" ever has to fiddle with serial or parallel ports, or thrash about looking for an adapter to mate two different USB plugs. At the rate we're going, it may take us more than a few centuries to bring our communications technologies to this heavenly level of universality. Just last week, Hilton became the latest travel company to roll out specialized iPhone applications that will enable users to check in remotely or place a room-service order for their arrival. Such mobile apps sound wonderfully modern, but we wonder if they pull us back from the "Star Trek" goal of universal compatibility. There is nothing wrong with proprietary apps that are unique to the iPhone and Hilton, though it means BlackBerry or Droid users are out of luck, as are guests booked at Marriott or InterContinental -- until somebody develops apps for that. But will we eventually require an app for each hotel chain, for each airline, for each device? When confronted with this sort of fragmentation, pundits often cite the Betamax/VHS videotape wars and reassure us that the market eventually sorts things out. Maybe. But in the tale of the tapes, there were only two competing formats, and most manufacturers and consumers had to choose one or the other. In today's mobile world, we have multiple complementary formats because consumers seem to want everything all the time -- at home, abroad, at the office, in the car, on the bike path, in the woods. Travel suppliers already have to manage a plethora of overlapping distribution and communications tools, such as websites in a variety of languages, pages on Facebook, YouTube and other third-party sites, plus Twitter accounts, not to mention in-house call centers, pipes to the GDS, direct connects and now mobile apps for different devices on different networks, all over the world. Does anybody here speak Klingon? The digital age was supposed to simplify things, and to a great extent it has. But we are finding annoying pockets of complexity in the evolution of technology for travel distribution. Basically, all we want to do is move some ones and zeros around. Can somebody make an app for that?