Consumer Cloud services, choose your ecosystem wisely

There is so much buzz around cloud services recently, but is it really all that new? Well according to Gartner we as consumers spend $2 Trillion pa on devices, services and content, so its a big deal.

Cloud services have been around for a while under different guises: photo back services (like Flickr), document back-up (dropbox) even full Computer back-up and recovery services.

So why all the interest suddenly?

Well now it had been packaged into something that is easier to market to consumers. And as such easier for consumers to understand, instead of server farms and more tech jargon you now simply sell white fluffy clouds. Ok, it has also changed slightly, in addition to the pure storage offers, you can now have bundled online document editing, so creatively named "apps".

Or better still online processing power to complete large operations, without local power needed in the device.

But here is where a big caveat comes in, whilst there are plenty trying to get your attention to sign up with them it is not always what it may seem, some seem to offer more than others, some seem to have a larger initial free allocation. And at the low cost it seems easy to switch to another service.

But is it?

I thought so. I had been using a free online photo storage, which was unlimited but most importantly to me get them at the original resolution. Slowly they started to make it more difficult to manage the photos and then out of the blue I get an e-mail to say the service is closing down in a few weeks and if I wanted my content I had to download it before the closing deadline. Not so simple, I had to install some absolute bloatware to use for the download, and you try download twelve thousand full resolution pictures.... And then upload them to a new service. So the absolute switching cost, whilst financially is actually quite low, is in fact extremely high.

The next switching cost to arise as cloud services evolve will be hardware choice. Ultimately companies make profits by selling you new hardware or the new business model of getting the opportunity to serve up adverts to you wherever possible. So either it will remain as high margin (retail cost) or advert subsidized lower cost. No one will be better than the other, it will simply come down to consumers affordability. A consumer who does not want to outlay a high amount might go for the advert model, akin to driving past many billboards on your way to work. Or, if that is too noisy for you, then you would get the "cleaned" version and not seeing all these marketing messages. In truth it will be a hybrid of both, just the bias skewed.

So what does this actually mean in practice?

I see the future evolution of mobile devices sliding down the retail price points by ridding themselves of the current intelligence they carry. That could be lower amounts of memory as a start but eventually the devices could turn into the equivalent of a dumb terminal with voice capability. By keeping your content in the cloud, there will be no need for onboard processing power, the document you want to edit would be done so using a cloud app and recalling the document from your cloud storage. The same would apply for games or any other content.

Yes in a large percentage of the world broadband speeds need to improve dramatically but with the advent of 4G and beyond just around the corner, this is allot closer than what you may imagine.

There are many players, but the major ones are those that are mobile enabled, and they too will be the most successful.

So whether you chose Apple (iCloud), Google (Google Docs) or Microsoft (SkyDrive), Dropbox, Evernote, these are the usual suspect but there are hundreds out there, choose it carefully as in all likelihood you will be locked into it for life, unless you are prepared to go through some pain to transfer to another service. But don't think for one minute that these companies are not thinking out some clever ways to make it such a chore so as to dissuade you from doing so.

This represents the old complex form of cloud operations. The mobile device if placed at the centre of the universe does not quite fit in and integrate. It also requires costly on processing power and memory for executing applications and using the required user content (music, photos etc). when going multi-screen with mobile, PC and tablets it becomes an administrative chore to ensure the same content is in each place, plus you are faced with the same hardware cost issues.

The future however is almost here......

Soon all your content will reside in one location, seamlessly backing up to other locations. You will be able to execute on device drawing content down or executing web apps in the cloud where the device acts purely as a window (screen).

There are some limitations currently, global bandwidth is not equal in either speed or cost, but expect to be using these solutions without even realising you have signed up to the cloud.

Your content will be created on one device, then seamlessly be pushed into the cloud and replicated accross all your other mobile and fixed devices with little effort from you the user; in most cases it will happen automatically.