Friday, November 13, 2009

Mobile cloud does not mean network computing

I found an interesting comment the other day in an article:
Nokia has batted back the concept by stating that mobile devices will not become ‘dumb clients' relying on the Cloud for the majority of intelligence.

The company's chief development officer, Mary McDowell, has stepped forward by accepting that the Cloud will grow, "we don't think the cloud is the total answer. Mobile devices are becoming more personalised and increasingly part of an individual's life. We think it will not be either/or," she said. "There will be a lot of intelligence in the Cloud and in the device, and the ability to exchange data with the Cloud will not pave the way for thinner devices, but increasingly powerful ones."

I could not agree more. I do not see a future where mobile devices are dumb, and source everything from the network. I see a future where mobile devices have local data, where the data is updated when the device is idle (from the cloud), where the applications are installed on the device. A network where the data is dispersed on every device and aggregated in the cloud.

Would it make more sense to just have all the data in the cloud, and have dumb terminals access it?

Yes, if you do not consider the following:
  1. COST. That for me nails the argument. The cost of network is going down ever so slowly, if it ever does. And the network are ever more saturated (think about it, they said we had enough capacity with 3G, now even 4G sounds limiting). On the other side, the cost of storage is going down dramatically. I can store on my cell phone what I could store on my PC a few years ago, for a fraction of the cost. Who can point to one single projection where network bandwidth will be sufficient and cheap, while storage on devices will cost a ton? Exactly...
  2. USABILITY. It starts with bandwidth, but it does not end there. Data on the device and apps on the device mean immediate access to what you are looking for. I wrote about it many times in the past: the scenario to keep in mind is the user with an open umbrella in pouring rain.
  3. OFF-LINE usage. It is a scenario that might become less frequent with wireless reception getting on planes, trains, tunnels, rural areas and so on. But it is not going to disappear completely. And, believe me, in that particular situation you will need that information on your device badly...
  4. OWNERSHIP of data. This is a silly need, because you still "own" the data even if it is not on your device, but it is stored in the cloud. However, the perception of it being far away, even if it is yours, will come in play. One article of a cloud player who lost all of the users data, and people will appreciate having their own data on their own device as well. It is mine, I want to keep it with me. All the time.
I just do not see how we could make network computing work in the mobile space, when we could not make it work in the desktop space, where bandwidth is not an issue, connectivity is constant and immediate access to data is less of a problem. It might happen there one day, but the day it will happen in mobile is 10 years or more away. If it will ever happen.