Research firm ABI recently 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
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 smartphones on the periphery of the mobile phone
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
Moving from consumers to the enterprise and back to
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, Wi-Fi 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
such as 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 forten 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
“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,” he
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.
OpenHealth is using Rhodes to build a cross-platform mobile solution for SugarCRM.
SugarCRM already has built-in iPhone and BlackBerry compatibility, but that’s it. Hall
also notes that the mobile components of SugarCRM lack critical features even for the
handsets it does support.
Using Rhodes, OpenHealth “will take advantage of Sugar’s cloud approach using a
standard means of connecting in to any client instance. It will operate off-line and
provide synchronization services when required.” The entire backend service will be
hosted in the cloud and can be accessed as a pay-as-you-go service.
Returning to consumers…
Smaller, tech-aggressive companies like OpenHealth aside, the mobile cloud today is
still a consumer play. The iPhone is the clearest example, but another case in point is
Wikipedia. Wikipedia used Rhomobile’s Rhodes to build a Wikipedia mobile app for the
iPhone App Store. They plan on porting it to Android soon, as well.
Application provider Zoho is also taking a mobile
cloud approach that, while it aspires to attract enterprise customers, is currently a
Zoho Mobile offers mobile, cloud-based versions of calendars, e-mail, document sharing
and a few other productivity apps. For most people, these are work apps, but it is the
individual who, according to Zoho’s “Evangelist” Raju Vegesna, is purchasing Zoho
Even more consumer-centric is INQ Mobile. A
subsidiary of conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, INQ Mobile is developing an inexpensive
mobile handset that could well be dubbed the first social-networking smartphone.
The device comes pre-loaded with such popular social-networking applications as
Facebook, Skype, and Windows Live Messenger. Twitter will be added soon.
According to Beccue, the INQ phone “presents a model for pushing
communications-focused mobile-cloud applications into the mass market.” The mobile
versions of the apps are developed on Qualcomm’s BREW. “‘The social-networking
applications’ are deeply integrated into the core phone applications–integrating the
partner application contacts into the phone’s list, enabling a user to snap a photo and
post it instantly to Facebook, inbox-message integration, and more,” Beccue said. “But to
keep the price of the mobile device inexpensive, the phone can handle only a few
Is it a feature phone? Is it a smartphone? It doesn’t fit neatly into either category,
but it is certainly a mobile-cloud phone.
As of now, INQ phones are available only in Hutchison Telecom’s networks in the UK,
Ireland, Italy, Hong Kong, and Australia, but more countries will be added soon.
Larger handset manufacturers also see the potential of tight integration with
social-networking applications. For instance, Samsung’s Reclaim handset offers one-click
access to Facebook.
Another headache for IT
From an IT perspective, the mobile cloud poses just as many risks as benefits. Data
leaks, mobile porn, IP theft, and lost productivity could all result from unfettered
mobile cloud access.
On the other hand, a boost in productivity, extra convenience and increased customer
responsiveness will all be early stage benefits.
It’s really not unlike when the Internet itself first entered the enterprise except
for one key difference: most enterprises do not own or even subsidize smartphones. Thus,
there’s little they can do to monitor or control them.
Enterprises didn’t own many of the early Internet connections either, of course, but
they weren’t trying to squeeze productivity out of them, either. Even if enterprises do
purchase handsets for their workers, people will balk at too much corporate control.
The mobile phone is a highly personal object. Enterprises have to tread lightly. If
they exercise too much control, consumers will just use their own devices. If they hide
their heads in the sand and hope nothing bad happens, unfettered mobile cloud access will
It’s a dicey issue with no easy answers. This should worry IT pros, because they’re
the ones who will be asked to provide answers, easy or not.
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