Thursday 26 April 2012

Consumer Cloud storage misses the point!

There is so much about the Cloud in the computing press at the moment ... it's one of the buzz words of the moment. I still prefer to think of it as distributed networked computing resources, but I admit that 'cloud' is simpler to say!  In the consumer marketplace, we are now seeing offerings of Microsoft's SkyDrive, DropBox, Apple's iCloud and most recently Google Drive.  Google grabbed headlines on the BBC Technology news website by offering free storage and a headline of 16Tb; though reading further you find that free allocations are of course limited to 5Gb, with 16Tb coming in at $800!  But all these offerings bar one emphasise storage even in their name alone (with terms like drive and box).

I don't say that emphasising storage in the cloud is missing the point from my computer scientist purist view that distributed resources should include processing as well as storage.  I say it is missing the point because the race to offer the biggest storage capacity in the cloud is to make the same mistake as choosing a PC by the detailed technology specifications.  Sure Apple's iCloud does offer storage but their strategy for offering the service across device types (computer, iPhone, iPad) is not storage but that old chestnut (discussed in my previous post as well), the user experience.  Consumers need a simple view of how distributed resources on the Internet can just work and make their lives easier.  Providing a secure trusted means for media, documents, online personal information and other data to just be available across all their devices is increasingly useful for people.  If iCloud makes the user experience of Apple's products better, then it will have succeeded.  It's not about selling storage.  Just like the point of my previous post about convergence and compromise, user experience drives the position the Cupertino company takes.

Trust is one thing that people are concerned about in the cloud.  Consumers should be aware of potential differences in the rationale for different providers to offer them "free" cloud resources.   The terms and conditions in the small print may well reveal differences in the motives of different players.  If your main business is search and advertising for example, the chance to store and access consumer data will probably offer different value to you than if your main business is selling consumer electronics or software and services!

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Convergence or Compromise?

One of the questions analysts asked Apple's CEO Tim Cook during the financial results call yesterday was for his views on the future for a converged device such as a cleverly designed notebook pc that can also be used as a tablet.  Analysts and many parts of the media just don't seem to understand that it isn't about what it's possible to build (however cleverly).  It is about the user experience.  Time and time again this mistake is made by forecasters and pundits.  Within Apple, it is ingrained corporate understanding.

Yes of course it is possible to make converged PC/tablet devices; indeed some companies are already doing so (defensively as Tim Cook characterised it). And a relative few people will be attracted to such devices and will buy them.  But the mainstream majority will evaluate the converged experience and see so many compromises that it is obviously worse than the experience of either individual device.

It's not just about physical design compromise.  It's also about the way people actually use and interact with devices; that is also very different for the PC and the tablet.  Some people will want and need to work in ways that best fits the notebook PC (however portable, lightweight, high res, etc it may be).  An increasing majority however, who never had a choice before, just want and need to work in ways that best fits a tablet.  And many people who never wanted a PC, find that they do want a tablet and can be extremely productive with it.   And the Apple's tablet, iPad, is finding uses and applications that the notebook PC would never be deployed in (such as electronic versions of flight data for airline pilots).

I was writing papers back in the early 90s when I formed BT's devices research unit in which I then talked about co-operating devices which were excellent at what they individually do, rather than converged kludges which try to be a swiss army knife 'jack of all trades' but are inevitably a master of none.  The reason I gave for my minority view then, although I couldn't have known it was exactly what Tim Cook said yesterday, that it is all about the user experience.

My next article will take another example of how the user experience focus of Apple looks at another popular and topical concept from a different perspective.