June 10, 2013, 11:02 AM — While businesses have been deploying cloud technology for some time, it's only recently that personal cloud services have emerged. The advent of the personal cloud means content, applications and computing power can move off the device. So, will we still need sophisticated tablets, PCs and smartphones if the power resides elsewhere?
While iPhones and iPads are unlikely to fade in popularity, the personal cloud will create opportunity. Opportunity for users who have not been able to afford services historically tethered to an expensive device; opportunity for manufacturers to design lower-cost hardware to reach a new demographic in developing countries; and huge opportunity for businesses to bring a new wave of services to this previously untapped audience.
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The cloud in its true sense has only just started hitting its stride, and the uptake has been overwhelming. Research from Forrester has indicated that 65% of the U.S. online adult population is using at least one form of personal cloud service and almost 60% of personal cloud users with smartphones are using the services daily or hourly. Anyone with an Internet connection seems to be using one form of service, whether it's Google Docs for managing spreadsheets, Dropbox for storing data or Spotify for listening to music.
In the next 12 months this engagement is going to increase tenfold. Gartner is forecasting that personal cloud services will be built into 90% of all connected consumer devices by the end of 2013. And while developed nations will continue to engage in the personal cloud, we will see developing countries begin to embrace these services in the next 12 months. And this uptake will be driven by the penetration of simple, low-cost hardware in these regions.
Google's launch of the Chromebook in mid-2011 was the first sign the personal cloud was becoming a reality, and that so-called "dumb devices" could bring a viable computing experience to consumers. Here was, after all, a device without any apps residing on it, designed to be used while connected to the Internet, available at a fraction of the price of a traditional PC or tablet.
The advent of the personal cloud will drive the emergence of more devices like the Chromebook that open up a new world of content and services to developing countries -- cheaper technology that delivers a viable computing experience enriching the lives of the individual in terms of entertainment, communication and healthcare.
But the key to the successful delivery of these personal cloud services is connectivity.
The personal cloud will be made or broken by the speed with which individuals can access content on their mobile devices. Advances in broadband have been spectacular in recent years but two technologies are going to be pivotal to the personal cloud explosion -- the 4G LTE and 802.11ac wireless standards.
802.11ac was launched to much fanfare in mid-2012 promising ridiculously fast wireless connections, better range, improved reliability and improved power consumption. In-Stat has predicted there will be an estimated 1 billion devices supporting 802.11ac worldwide by by 2015. The 802.11ac standard will enable the seamless delivery of personal cloud services via a Wi-Fi connection. Where there isn't Wi-Fi, 4G LTE will be essential to that same seamless delivery. By 2016, 4G LTE subscribers are expected to reach nearly 1.2 billion, based on data from IHS iSuppli. The more widespread devices and access points with ultra-fast broadband become in the year ahead, the closer we move to making the personal cloud a practical reality.
It should come as no surprise that the mobile phone is likely to become the principle device for the personal cloud revolution. The mobile phone is always with us, it doesn't need to be booted up and today's smartphones can essentially do what PCs did five years ago. It is already the device of choice for accessing the Internet in many countries, especially developing regions. Data from Pew Internet recently revealed that 31% of mobile Internet users surf the Web the majority of the time using their mobile phone. In China especially, mobile handsets have become the No. 1 method people use to access the Web, according to IDC. The emergence of the personal cloud will drive a simplification of these devices and make a smart mobile Internet experience accessible to everyone.
For the personal cloud to succeed, businesses need to keep developing innovative services that enhance our lives; manufacturers need to focus on a range of products from high-end smartphones to low-cost devices allowing all audiences to capitalize on these services; and most importantly, we need to make sure the quality of connectivity is widespread enough to truly enable the personal cloud to succeed.
The advent of cloud technology in the year ahead has the potential to change the device and connectivity forever. The cloud is about to truly get personal.