So what is ‘cloud’ and why should I care?
Mobile cloud computing basically means that tasks and data are stored off device, on the internet, rather than installed on individual devices.
This means your information, such as internet bookmarks, documents, music and even movies do not need to be copied or stored on every piece of technology you own – it gets uploaded to a storage space on the internet and you can retrieve it at will on anything from your iPad to your Samsung Galaxy S3 to your workplace computer (as long as they all have an internet connections).
Modern cloud computing has moved beyond this simple lockbox-type approach, and has merged into ‘services’ – these can combine almost every element of computer or mobile device usage, from email to social networking.
This can range from a company that lets you store documents and photos, through to a restaurant website that saves your eating preference in the cloud and offers you suggestions for your favourite foods. This could be anywhere in the world, using GPS.
Most people would’ve experienced a form of cloud usage pretty early on in their internet experience – through web based email, such as Yahoo Mail, Hotmail (now Outlook) and Gmail. This is effectively ‘offsite’ cloud email – rather than it being stored and sent from your hard drive.
Ever been backpacking and Gmailed photos of Machu Picchu to yourself, so you could retrieve them when you got back to the first world? You were effectively using Gmail as a cloud storage service for your photos.
Key uses for cloud
1. Syncing address book contacts, web browser book marks, user preferences and other personalisations across all your devices – For example, the Google Chrome web browser’s book marks will appear on your PCs browser, your smartphone and your tablet. More importantly, a contact’s details saved from an email on your PC will appear in your phone’s address book – without you having to re-enter that data on every device in front of you.
2. Photos – through inbuilt programs such as Apple’s photostream, any photos taken on your iPhone will be downloaded to your tablet automatically. Very handy for those that need to do photo editing.
3. Work – Users of Microsoft’s Office 365 or Google’s Docs will appreciate this wholeheartedly. Any documents written in Google Docs go straight into the cloud and can be retrieved at any time for editing – very useful for long trips to get work done on the laptop or tablet, or if you just need to type a few quick notes into your smartphone while on a site visit. Office 365 takes this further (it’s also a subscription service) and is integrated directly into Microsoft Office for ‘lightweight’ editing offsite.
4. Social Media – while not traditionally grouped with cloud computing in most minds, Facebook and Twitter follow all the cloud principles – all your data, photos and posts are stored offsite in a company’s server banks. These raise more privacy issues, as due to the Terms and Conditions you usually sever complete ownership rights when using these sites (see Privacy)
5. Save for later – One of the best features of the Cloud is one of the simplest: there are a variety of apps (see box) that allow you to save your online experience for later. Simply bookmark a page, and Instapaper will save web pages for later, it even morphs all your saved bookmarks into a newspaper format.
6. Backup – The most obvious, and an integration of all of the above. Quite simply, storing vital documents and treasured memories in the cloud means that if your house is burned down, or your phone stolen by thugs, the information is untouched. With Apple devices, for example, you can literally walk into a store the next day, buy a replacement, connect to the internet and your phone will be as it was at the last backup – contacts, photos, documents, emails and all. Most cloud apps (such as Dropbox) now have desktop clients, so you can simply drag and drop files to a folder, and they will automatically sync across all your devices.
One of the scary issues for those using Cloud Services is simple – you are placing your trust in the hands of a foreign entity – namely a faceless company, probably half way across the world, storing your private documents and even your own personality data.
If their security fails, yours does. We have seen this a few times recently, such as Sony Playstation’s servers being hacked (hundreds of thousands of user profiles and credit card details were leaked on to the internet). Is this somewhere you really want you, or your company’s private financial data (such as your monthly budgets, or confidential HR documents), stored, out of your control?
It also raises legal questions – whereas in the UK you can pursue legal action against an accountant who loses your papers (actual physical papers we mean), and even gain insurance for these kinds of situations, the laws concerning Cloud companies and their duty of care for your data is still unclear internationally.
How does Aunt Maude from Hull go after multinational Google (based in California) for breach of privacy if her bank statements have been stolen by a third party?
Privacy advocates are also concerned about data spying – although those that use Facebook or Twitter on their phones sign elaborate disclaimers (the legality of which is cloudy) before use, these companies, and Google too, want to sell you advertis- ing. They aren’t providing a public service. They want to see what your hobbies are, what kind of food you like and where you do these activities. On smartphones, this is manifested through GPS tracking: so if you go to the Manchester CBD KFC once a week it detects a pattern, and may place ads on your app or so- cial network advising you of specials on in that store.
Some customers love this kind of integra- tion, seeing it as a neat modern service. Others are worried about the implications of such ‘benign’ observing.
The death of the text message
The death of SMS text messaging has long been exaggerated. But the more smartphone users boost their data usage, the more redundant the old text message will become.
Texts can now be sent over the internet, similar to a Skype call (which will one day replace phone calls too). Apple now has iMessage built in (blue coloured text messages to those that also have iMessage enabled, as opposed to the green of a traditional, paid for SMS) – but this will only work for Apple devices. Other popular cloud based messaging services include WhatsApp – which works on both Android and Apple devices, and Viber, which combines Skype-style internet phone calling with text messaging.
Cloud means everything is synced across all your devices – music, email and addresses..
- 72 hours of video uploaded toYoutube every minute of the day (source: Youtube)
- 10.8 exabytes: Global internet data traffic from mobiles (per month) by 2016 (source: Cisco)
- $45 billion: the amount the mobile cloud market will reach in 2016 (source: Reportlinker)
- 54 per cent: the amount of Linkedin respondents citing security as their top concern with cloud (source: Linkedin)
- $160 billion: the size of the cloud computing market by 2013 (source: Merrill Lynch)
Music and movies too?
Lets face it, having to sync your music between all your devices (via your laptop) is annoying. The aforementioned ‘lockbox’ style cloud storage services allowed you to upload your own movies and music (subject to copyright laws), which provided a temporary solution. Nowadays, more companies are jumping onto a more service based model from the point of sale. Amazon, for example, has just started its new service ‘Autorip’ in the US for select CDs sold. Something of a misnomer (no music is actually ‘ripped’ from the CDs you buy), it means that when you buy an album, its online, streamed version is instantly available to you. Third party app/music services such as Spotify, Rdio and Grooveshark allow you to purchase music from their app stores and stream it directly from their servers in the cloud. These songs aren’t directly downloaded to your smartphone – although some, such as Nokia’s first party Nokia Music, offer ‘down- loaded’ versions for offline listening (such as on a plane) on its Lumia devices.
Google Music, Amazon Cloud Player and Apple’s iCloud all offer their own cloud streaming and audio purchase services for their particular devices, connected to their various music stores. Movies will go the same way, once 4G is more established – this has been limited by mobile broadband speeds. Even so, Netflix, Sky and Amazon’s LoveFilm are all offering pared back experiences, and can be used on Wi-Fi and 4G. Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App store both offer smartphone and tablet movie downloading and streaming.
iCloud – all the music of Apple’s App Store (paid per purchase) in the cloud for free. Otherwise, the initial 5Gb is free, expandable by paying.
Spotify – unlimited music for £9.99 per month, including down- loading to listen offline. It has a 30 day free trial.
Grooveshark – unlimited music, for free. It has recently been booted from Google and Apple’s app stores over legal issues, but is still available through your mobile web browser.
Rdio – unlimited music, with an in-app subscription for £14.99 per month.
The main services
Essentially preinstalled on all Apple devices, it includes Safari, Notes, iTunes (music, movies and TV shows), Photos, Calendar, Con- tacts and Mail, everything from the App Store and the iBook store, alongside Apple’s iCloud Backup and Find My iPhone services.
It is activated by signing into your Ap- ple account on the phone. You can check which apps are using what in the 5GB allowance (and upgrade it) by going into Settings-iCloud- Storage and Backup on your iP- hone or iPad menu. iCloud isn’t as open as the other platforms, but is seamlessly integrated into Apple’s OS – you don’t have a ‘folder screen’ or a webpage you can view and drag and drop files into, unlike the other offerings on this list. It also doesn’t offer a PC desktop drag and drop interface either.
Plans are: Free to 5GB
10GB added is £14 per year (so 15GB total)
20GB added is £28 per year (25GB total)
50GB added is £70 per year
Google hasn’t become a major tech multinational by chance. Its cloud offerings are mostly free, and include Gmail, Google Drive (storage) and Google Docs (document creation and edit- ing). The Google Play Store, home of all its apps, music, movies and books, is pay per item.
The Chrome Web browser will sync bookmarks, search histories and your logins through your accounts. Overall, Google’s cloud offerings are more ‘techie’ and less user friendly than Apple’s or Dropbox. The incorpora- tion of Google Docs makes it a powerful tablet work tool for the road warrior. As with Apple, the first 5GB is free.
Plans are: Free to 5GB
25GB is $2.50 (£1.50) per month – £18 per year (30GB total)
1TB is $50 (£31) per month
16TB is $800 (£500) per month
The Godfather of them all, Dropbox has become synonymous with mass online storage, and its famously easy to use interface (now freshly rede- signed too). It uses the ‘lockbox’ model, and is platform agnostic. This suits users of diverse plat- forms, rather than being chained to Google or Apple devices. Drop- box just doesn’t care – it’s web based for most, but has apps for Apple’s iOS, Google Android and Windows Phone 8. Its apps and online interface are the best in the business, basic and simple to use. The biggest problem is that it doesn’t have intermediate storage plans – its free up to 2GB, but the next pay plan is 100GB – absolute overkill for casual users.
Plans are: Free to 2GB, then up to 18GB (through tasks, such as referring friends to the website etc.) 100GB is $10 per month (£6.20) or $100 per year (£62) 200GB $20 and $200 per year 500GB $50 and $500 per year
Skydrive follows Google’s model more than Dropbox’s or iCloud. It is more a platform that ties together Microsoft’s Windows Phone and Surface tablet set- tings, contact books, emails and bookmarks. But it also has the only ‘proper’ integration with Office 365 for workers, and links again into Microsoft’s whole Live service – namely Skype and the others. However, while it works brilliantly with Microsoft’s own services, it doesn’t have the app integra- tion the others on this list have – the same problem that has been plaguing all of Microsoft’s operating system offerings over the past few years. Microsoft only offers yearly plans, which may be less flexible for casual users. Plans are: Free to 5GB 10GB added is £14 per year (so 15GB total) 20GB added is £28 per year (25GB total) 50GB added is £70 per year Google – Google hasn’t become a major tech multinational by chance. Its cloud offerings are mostly free, and include Gmail, Google Drive (storage) and Google Docs (document creation and edit- ing). The Google Play Store, home of all its apps, music, movies and books, is pay per item. The Chrome Web browser will sync bookmarks, search histories and your logins through your accounts. Overall, Google’s cloud offerings are more ‘techie’ and less user friendly than Apple’s or Dropbox. The incorpora- tion of Google Docs makes it a powerful tablet work tool for the road warrior. As with Apple, the first 5GB is free.
Plans are: Free to 5GB 25GB is $2.50 (£1.50) per month – £18 per year (30GB total) 1TB is $50 (£31) per month 16TB is $800 (£500) per month B- A- 38 Questions? Head to our online forum at forum.whatmobile.net A Plans: Free to 7GB 20GB is $10 (£6) per year 50GB is $25 (£16) per year 100GB is $50 (£32) per year
Essential cloud apps
1. Goodreader iPad and iPhone, £2.99
Goodreader is the ultimate reader app. It allows you to import and view almost any type of text file (and take notes), in a handy high powered browser. It is wonderfully simple – you can pretty much view any kind of media, from comic books and PDFs to movies. It also works brilliantly well with other apps. For example, you can import a work document from Google Docs, scribble notes all over it by hand, and then export it instantly. It works with Dropbox, email or any other filesharing/synching function.
2. Dropbox All plaforms, free
This is the standard. The simplest interface yet, and the widest compatibil- ity with apps across all the major platforms – and even your desktop/laptop computer. Essential.
3. Cloudmagic Google Android, Apple iOS, Kindle Fire, WP8 – free
As you may have noticed from the rest of this feature, the choices are incredibly varied. What happens if consumers use more than one cloud service? How will you remember where you put that one particular document or photo? Cloudmagic solves that – it’s effectively a search across all cloud platforms – so a single search box for your Facebook, Gmail, Dropbox and Evernote (and others). A pain to set up however.
4. Pocket Google Android and Apple iOS, free
Formerly known as ‘Read it Later’, Pocket is the best free app for doing just that; saving old webpages or online content to view later. Presentation wise its wonderful, while you’re browsing through the internet you can keep stories you didn’t get to finish or you simply want to preserve. Design wise, it lays it all out in app like a newspaper or magazine, and now also works with video.
5. Kindle Google Android and Apple iOS, free
Nevermind Google, Microsoft and Apple’s own book store offering, the original is still the best. Use Amazon’s online cloud book store to buy and read all of the world’s best books on your tablet or smartphone. Better suited to Retina Display class tablets, rather than smartphones – but if your eyes can take the punishment…
6. Flipboard Android, iOS, free
Flipboard produces your own magazine based upon your preferences, drawn from all across the internet. Love cars? Turn Flipboard into a concise sum- mary of everything car related from all your favourite titles, it will then self update and learn to suit your preferences. This is especially brilliant on a tablet.
7. Shazam! Google Android, Apple iOS, free
Do you get annoyed when you’re stuck in a bar and an awesome song comes on – and you can’t remember its name (or never knew it in the first place)? Shazam will listen, compare the song to its records in the cloud, and bounce back the answer within 30 seconds. It also can direct you to Meteoritic reviews and online shops to purchase from.