Mobile Cloud Computing: Is Your Phone Drifting to the Cloud?

The mobile cloud computing market is expanding rapidly, yet obstacles still remain to market saturation.


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Posted October 2, 2009

Jeff Vance

Jeff Vance

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Research firm ABI just released a new mobile cloud computing report predicting that there will be nearly one billion end users accessing the “mobile cloud” by 2014.

I tend to be a skeptic when it comes to analyst reports. After all, if they don’t predict billion-dollar markets, no one will buy their reports.

That said, this report isn’t just hype. First off, the mobile cloud is already taking off from an application perspective.

“Consumers are very interested in the cloud. They just don’t think of it in those terms,” said Dana Gardner, president and principal analyst, Interarbor Solutions. “The iPhone App store and even iTunes are cloud offerings. Apple is one of biggest cloud providers, even if it doesn’t refer to itself as a cloud company.”

Secondly, the device driving mobile cloud adoption, the smartphone, is a gadget everyone loves. Mark Beccue, an analyst with ABI Research, said: “Consumers are waking up to the idea of mobile apps. The dilemma is that they’re limited to smartphones, which don’t have the processing power and data storage capabilities to make the applications appealing.”

Despite all the hype about next-generation Blackberries and iPhones, ownership of these devices is far from saturation. The high cost of the handsets coupled with expensive data plans is keeping smart phones on the periphery of the mobile phone market – for now.

Beccue estimates that smartphone penetration stands at about 19% today in the U.S., although ABI expects it to grow to 40% or so in five years. Feature phones – basically lower-tier phones with fewer computing capabilities – still rule the day.

Feature phones may have a browser and, say, some gaming, but they’re not mini-computers. The wrinkle here is the browser. Many feature phones do indeed have a fairly decent one, and this could be one way the mobile cloud grows on the cheap.

The browser is already being sized up as an OS and desktop alternative, so as more applications become truly cloud driven – protecting constrained devices from processing and storage requirements – even feature phones could become more and more cloud compatible.

Moving from Consumers to the Enterprise and back to Consumers

When you shift your focus away from consumers, the market is much less advanced. Enterprises are interested in mobile applications delivered via the cloud, but few have adopted the requisite technologies.

As with many devices before – PCs, laptops, WiFi routers, the first Blackberries and iPhones – smartphones (and the mobile cloud) could well enter the enterprise through the back door. All it takes is a few bold developers or some restless IT workers to start the migration beneath management’s radar.

Even for a proactive enterprise trying to stay ahead of the mobile cloud trend, issues like multi-device support and security muddy the waters. OpenHealth, an Australian company that provides technical and business solutions for healthcare organizations, has been working with mobile applications for 10 years, starting with Palm PDAs.

“We were always frustrated by one thing – the need to commit to an OS manufacturer, for example, Palm, in order to build a solution,” said Chris Hall, commercial director of OpenHealth.

“More devices equaled double or triple the code set to maintain and lots of other challenges. We have always hosted the backend for our service, so as far as our users were concerned, there was nothing to install. In reality, though, each client implementation involved case-by-case integration, which was troublesome and costly,”

To alleviate this problem as mobile apps move to the cloud, OpenHealth is working with Rhomobile, which provides “an open mobile framework.”

Essentially, Rhomobile gives developers a framework, Rhodes, they can use to build native apps for major smartphone OSes, including iPhone, Windows Mobile, RIM, Symbian and Android. Rhomobile also offers a synch/middleware solution for legacy apps.

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Tags: cloud computing, middleware, iPhone, smartphones

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