I have been doing a lot of Cloud Computing presentations around the world since late last year when I became Gartner’s theme owner for the subject. In that time, I have spent a great deal of energy cataloguing different ways in which the Cloud would impact people. Now that is actually different than what many Cloud aficionados are doing. They, I would argue, are still focusing on how infrastructure and software will be the difference in the Cloud. I don’t feel that way. The real difference that the cloud will bring about will be in how people interact with the services they care about.
I noted with some joy the blogs of several smart people like Steve Clayton and Mathew David who wrote quite eloquently on the fact that an iPhone is a killer application for cloud computing. I agree with them wholeheartedly. But one thing I think they might have missed is the depth of the changes that this type of model will bring about.
About a year and a half ago, one of my colleagues and I had a friendly debate about mobile Web browsing and I said “Nobody wants to browse the web on a cell phone“. “Instead“, I opined, “they want to access mobile services using the device as the access point“. Well, I was half wrong. The iPhone has shown that people actually will browse the web on a cell phone. But, I was also half right. The iPhone (and smart phones of all kinds) is the portal to an entire world of cloud based apps that do things that can make cloud computing not just a new way to deliver and acquire computing services, but a way to change how people live their lives. The argument goes something like this. Put a device in people’s hands that they think has style and they will buy it – for a while. Put a device in their hands that lets them have a revelation about how the universe works, and they will do things their parents never dreamed of.
Just go check out an iPhone app these days. Look at Shazam (identifies music just by listening to it). Look at Nearpics (shows you pictures that other people have taken, at some point in time, near where you are standing). These are great cloud examples because the data and interaction with it is through the cloud. But take it a step farther. Look at Smule’s Sonic Lighter, or Smule’s new Ocarina app. These are just a few examples but they make me think I am looking at the next generation of money-making opportunities.
If you haven’t seen sonic lighter, it is simply what it says – a lighter with a flame that you can light, tilt, interact with, or even blow out. Most would say – a useless app. But, it can also show you on a virtual earth, where everyone else who has lit their flame recently is, or was (I always wonder about that one guy in the middle of the Indian ocean off Madagascar). Now I can imagine several ways of using that kind of simultaneous “Global Affinity data”. Data collection is pretty useful usually. Simultaneous geographical collection of data smacks of mass opportunity to me. The same is true of NearPics. So, I can see slideshows of other people’s pictures from when they stood near where I am now. What if people decided to sell those photos, or artists decided to do paintings on demand from those photos? And don’t even get me started about the fact we could stitch those photos together to form panoramic views and 3D models.
And what of Ocarina? Ocarina? The danged phone is becoming a musical instrument. I can imagine high school ocarina bands popping up for talent shows all over the place. Well, I am getting carried away.
Look. I am not saying that the iPhone is the only phone that can do many of these types of things. Nor am I saying it will be the last. Blackberries and Windows mobile phones, and Nokia phones and more have services at their hearts. What I am saying is that the iPhone with the App store is one example where cloud services are going to open up vistas where there once were just postage sized screens.
Make no mistake. The cloud is about services – not about infrastructure or software. And, what people do with those services will be the most telling bits of reality surrounding this emerging phenomenon called Cloud computing. Without that, I fear it will be just one more attempt at changing the technology status quo that fell short.
So, maybe my iPhone does not have A soul, but with the cloud – it sure has got soul.