Got Your Head in the Cloud?

Posted in Digital | June 8,2011

If you had not heard of “The Cloud” before yesterday, chances are good you have now that Steve Jobs has put his “i” on it.

The cloud is not a new idea: Microsoft tells us to go to “To the cloud!”, Amazon launched its Cloud Drive (complete with Cloud Player for Web and Cloud Player for Android) in March and Google launched its version of the cloud, dubbed “Music Beta”, last month. None of those companies, however, have the ability to change the game the way Apple has time and again the last few years, which is why Apple’s announcement of their new iCloud service has the tech industry buzzing once again.

Many people are already using the cloud, perhaps without even knowing it. The cloud, in its simplest form, can best be described as computing that happens remotely, where data is kept not on a local computer, but on a big “hard drive in the sky”.

Before the recent avalanche of cloud services, the best example of the cloud was Google’s online word processing and spreadsheet service, Google Docs, where files can be created, shared and edited without ever having a physical copy on your computer. Instead, your documents are housed on Google’s servers and can be accessed from any computer (or smartphone, tablet, etc.) with an Internet connection.

Other cloud-type services that have been around for a while including Dropbox, the cross-platform file syncing/sharing service and Amazon S3, a web developer-oriented online storage service. But this new wave of cloud services offers something different: not just a place to store your stuff, but a multitude of ways to deploy it, too.

Ultimately, services like Apple’s iCloud, Google’s Music Beta and Amazon’s Cloud Drive will allow you to listen to your music, watch your movies and show off your vacation photos on any computer, any phone, any tablet or even any television. Do you hate having to plug your iPhone into iTunes? With the cloud, you will not have to–ever again. If you buy a song from the iTunes Store or Amazon’s MP3 Store, it will be there–and everywhere–automatically. Take photos with your smartphone but lost the USB connection cable you need to move pictures to your computer? Not to worry, those pictures were uploaded to the cloud the moment you took them. Drop your phone in the toilet? Your data–pictures, movies, songs, everything–is safe because none of it actually resides there. It’s on the cloud!

Google has taken things a step further with the first cloud computers, dubbed Chromebooks, which will be released by Samsung and Acer on June 15. With a Chromebook, all of your computer’s applications are cloud-based and all of your data is stored and synced to the cloud, so there is no need for local storage (such as a hard drive or memory card) at all.

So what does this all mean, and why is it a big deal? Simply put, the cloud fundamentally changes the way people will use the Internet, the way hardware manufacturers will build computers and the way software will be priced and released in the future. Consumers will come to expect their data to be everywhere they need it without effort; computers will be smaller and lighter; and software will be cheaper, faster and updated more quickly.

Best, and perhaps most surprising, of all, most of these services are free. But how, you might ask, and why?

The cloud changes how companies can market themselves and their products to consumers because those companies will have access to all of their consumers’ information; all of their “stuff”. Just as Gmail targets ads to users based on the content of their email, just as Facebook ads are tailored to you based on information on your profile and your friends’ profiles, so will ads be targeted to you based on the information you have stored in the cloud. The songs you listen to, the movies you watch, the pictures you take, even the content of your Word docs will all be fodder for targeted advertising, and companies will pay a premium for it. Google knows this. Apple knows this. In exchange for free syncing and storage for all your stuff, you give them the right to sell targeted ads to you.

Are you ready for the cloud?

Sean Hosley Interface & Identity Designer (and tech geek)