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Saturday, July 2, 2011
Will Mobile Cloud Computing Ever Take Off?
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Over the past few years, companies like Google, Amazon andSalesforce have helped transform “the cloud” from a substance-free buzzword into, well a buzzword that actually makes a lot of business sense. Users increasingly access cloud services at home, at work and in the enterprise. Of course, like virtually every other sector of the web and tech industries, the focus is increasingly being turned tomobile.
In theory, the always-connected nature of smartphones and 3G-enabled tablets are a perfect match for cloud computing and cloud services. Still, halfway through 2011, we haven’t seen cloud computing and cloud services as tightly coupled or well integrated into the mobile ecosystem one might expect. Looking at the evolution of mobile platforms offers insight into the mobile cloud of the future.
Mobile Platforms Are Still Data Silos
Earlier this month, Google officially introduced the Chromebook, the first netbook computer that will ship withChrome OS. Chrome OS is built around the idea of keeping data fundamentally stored in the cloud, while still providing local access. Programs, files and media are all executed in the web browser.
One of the key differentiators of Chrome OS is that because everything is stored and executed in the cloud, users can access their machines and accounts from a different device, without having to do anything more than log in.
This is in contrast to current mobile and desktop operating systems that might have some cloud-syncing capabilities for things like contacts, email and bookmarks, but still largely keep user data, application preferences and other information stored locally on the device itself.
Google’s Android operating system touts its cloud abilities — and sure, users can instantly access their inboxes, Picasa photo albums and Gmail contacts by simply adding an account to another Android device, but third-party application settings, locally stored files and protected items, like Wi-Fi passwords, remain inaccessible.
Many Third-Party Apps Increasingly Take Advantage of Cloud Services
Although modern desktop and mobile operating systems may still not be developed with a “cloud first” strategy, many third-party app developers are working at integrating with cloud services and using cloud backends to process and serve content at a brisk pace.
Appcelerator and IDG’s survey indicated that “84% of respondents said that they are using at least one cloud-enabled or cloud-based service in their applications today.” Although much of this activity is still based around the social cloud — integrating with services like Facebook or Twitter, an increasing number are using cloud-based commerce platforms or adding support for enterprise cloud backends.
Perhaps most telling, 44% of respondents are deploying parts of their apps using cloud platforms services from companies like Amazon or Microsoft. We’re approaching a point in mobile application development where content within the app is sourced from a data connection or API as much as it is embedded and executed through pure native code. This not only makes it easier for developers to bring the same content and services to multiple platforms, it makes it easier for users to access their data in other apps on other devices.
A trend — especially in the iOS App Store — is the increasing number of applications that are designed to integrate directly with cloud-based services. I have an entire iOS folder of note-taking apps dedicated to interfacing directly with Dropbox, for example, rather than using native storage on the phone itself.
The advantage of this sort of connectivity is that accessing an app on an iPhone or an iPad displays the same data. Moreover, that data is also accessible from the web or desktop.
Virtualization companies like VMWare are working to create virtualized instances — run from the cloud — of desktop computers, accessible on the iPhone, Android and iPad. The next step is to natively integrate the data on the phone with the data in another virtual machine, without having to rely on cumbersome syncing or file transfer procedures.
Better Integration is On its Way
Mobile cloud computing might still be in its infancy, however it is clear that mobile platform developers and app makers are embracing the cloud. Amazon, a company that has almost seamlessly rolled out its cloud platformto thousands upon thousands of developers, while also integrating that platform into its Kindle, Amazon Instant Video and Amazon MP3 products, is leading the way.
Google and Apple are both rumored to be taking a more proactive and cloud-centric approach to future versions of Android and iOS, while also building mobile-friendly cloud services.
Cloud integration also plays a big part in the future of Microsoft’s Windows Phone Mango platform. From integrating seamlessly with multiple networks and services for accessing documents, email and media to building more hooks for the cloud into is developer SDK, Windows Phone is betting big on the cloud.
The future for the cloud and mobile is bright — even if it might take some time to develop.