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The Next Big Thing in Mobile the Personal Cloud
Amit Chawla
Monday, October 3, 2011
A major change is brewing in the mobile industry—the advent of the personal cloud. Mobile users, of which there are now more than five billion, will be storing more of their data and rich media in personal accounts in the cloud, also called 'digital lockers.' Personal clouds are beginning to be used by both consumers, as well as enterprise users, and there are three primary reasons why they will be storing even more data and rich media in the cloud:

1. Smartphones are evolving into powerful personal computers, which store increasing amounts of data and media. While, in the past it might have been just a minor inconvenience if your phone was lost, broken or stolen, it is now a major nuisance--given the amount of data and content stored on a users’ phone. Just as people have become aware of the need to back up critical data on personal computers, the same reasoning applies to mobile devices. By saving one's data and rich media in the cloud, the user is assured of a reliable backup of their personal or business data.

2. As smartphones and mobile data plans become ubiquitous, consumers are increasingly using multiple wireless-devices, such as two phones (one for work and another for personal use), a phone and laptop, or a phone and tablet. This will make it progressively more difficult to keep them in sync, if for example, you have some contacts on one phone and other contacts on another device, or you want to access your calendar across multiple devices. The same goes for email, pictures, videos, files, etc. While it is possible to sync devices using a cable, the reality is that, many people do not do this, for a variety of reasons — inconvenience, tediousness, technical challenge, and more.

Thus, the cloud is a natural warehouse, to store digital information and to keep things in sync across devices for easy access. It also becomes an easy way to share data and media with other systems (e.g. email systems and social networks), as well as with other people (e.g. family, relatives, co-workers and colleagues).

3. The cloud will grow to become an important tool for people, to access and purchase mobile content; including music, videos, movies, e-books, games, apps, and other digital content. Although this is still in its infancy; the trend is clear that companies will use the cloud as a distribution channel, to offer users additional digital goods.

Based on these trends and others, Forrester Research recently predicted, that the personal cloud will become a new mobile market, amounting to $12 billion by 2016 in the U.S. alone. Extrapolating this to a worldwide population, the market is projected to be worth $40 billion, which by comparison is twice as big as the current market for online music.

How the Personal Cloud Will Change the Mobile Industry

Companies in the mobile industry are aware of the likely 'sea change' potential, of the personal cloud. They can see that mobile users will be storing additional data and rich media in the cloud, and that it is going to change the structure, as well as fortunes of many companies in the industry. Here are some of the more significant changes on the way.

Apple is feverishly putting the finishing touches, on its new iCloud service, which lets users store a variety of data and media, on personal accounts in the cloud. It is primarily intended for users of iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), as well as Mac computers and laptops. As part of iCloud, iTunes will be integrated--allowing users to store iTunes purchases in the cloud, for access across Apple devices, PCs, and TVs.

Google is increasingly pursuing opportunities in the mobile space. This shows that, to thrive in the mobile industry, at least three major components are needed: great handsets (hardware), a modern mobile operating system (e.g. iOS or Android), and integrated cloud services (e.g. iCloud, or Google cloud services such as Gmail, Picasa, and YouTube). Another component, as noted, is the ability to offer commercial content, such as music and videos, so that users can store both their own user-generated content (such as their pictures and videos), as well as commercial content (such as music and movies), in one place.

Other large companies, in and around the mobile industry, for example, LG, Samsung, Nokia, HTC, and RIM, are aware of how the personal cloud is changing the mobile game, and are taking various steps to address it.

Mobile operators and other telecommunication service providers, such as cable companies and landline phone companies, face the question, of whether it makes sense to offer customers a personal cloud (or a personal 'business' cloud). The challenge for them is that they need to support many different phones and devices on their network, from different vendors; whereas Apple and Google, for example, only need to support their own devices. The challenge and opportunity, for them, is to support a diversity of devices, while still providing the ease-of-use, offered by the likes of Apple.

At the same time, the customer relationship that service providers have with customers, gives them a potential advantage. For example, if all of the members of a family or a workgroup use the same operator, it makes sense that the operator would provide a cloud service that works with all of their devices; allowing people to store their data and media in the cloud, and share it with each other. Another group of companies impacted by the rise of personal clouds are content companies such as Amazon and social networks, such as Facebook. They want to make sure that mobile users continue to use their sites as the primary place to access content. However, if a mobile user has multiple alternatives for storing their data and media online, it obviates the need to save data and media with the content company, or social network. In this respect, the personal cloud is both a threat, as well as an opportunity for content companies.

There are numerous startups, as well as established companies, that are introducing new personal cloud services--practically on a weekly basis. This is increasing the number of options available to users, and increasing the levels of innovation and ease-of-use in the industry.

In summary, the mobile world is rapidly changing. Many more people will be storing significantly more data and rich media in the cloud, which is changing many aspects of the mobile ecosystem. This will create both many new challenges, as well as opportunities.

If you are interested in learning more about how people intend to use personal clouds in detail, you are invited to download a free research report, "Personal Cloud Survey: Hype vs. Reality," at http://www.funambol.com/solutions/library.php. The report analyzes people's intentions to keep data and media in the cloud, and highlights potential obstacles to adoption.

The author is CEO, Funambol

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