A large number of the apps that we all use on our mobile phones and tablets incorporate a variation of cloud computing in some sense, because many of them fundamentally rely on the idea that they are providing us with a packaged-up experience of what are essentially web applications. This approach to mobile apps allows the user to access an array of content and functions which they could not physically store on their mobile device. Therefore, cloud computing on mobile devices has fairly specific benefits for mobile users in comparison to users of PCs to the extent that cloud computing is core to the development of computing itself on such ‘smart’ devices, particularly since the launch of 3G networks and the ability to transfer data that that offers. What’s more, with the advent of the higher bandwidths of 4G upon us, the concept of maximising mobile data and processes within the cloud – and minimising the amount stored on individual devices – is only set to carry on expanding.
The list of the categories and types of applications that use and/or rely on cloud computing is extensive to say the least but the following looks at some of the primary examples of how the cloud has revolutionised our mobile lives.
Beyond business use, the vast majority of email users access their email from webmail services – that is, email services where the information (the emails and contacts etc) is stored on the remote servers of the email provider. Most users simply log on to this service; others synchronise a desktop client with it whilst a few may opt to download their data fully to their desktop. However, the data essentially originates, and for the most part is stored, in the cloud. Therefore, such services are primed for use across multiple devices and locations, including mobile use. Mobile operating systems come with built in email clients which allow users to synchronise their email so that they can work with it on their mobile/tablet and any changes they make will be synchronised with the service provider’s servers and, consequently, any other devices that access that email account (and vice versa). In other words, users can for example draft an email on their phone on the way in to work then finish and send it from their desktop once they are in work.
With the use of email becoming so popular on mobile devices many email services allow users to synchronise their email contacts with their mobile too so that their email and phone and social contacts can be unified in one place with the underlying data being stored in the cloud. If they update the details on one contact record the update will appear on all of their other synced devices when they view that record.
Unified Communications & Social Networking
Mobile computing is at the forefront of both the social networking revolution and a communications revolution called unified communications (UC) – the idea that multiple channels of internet based communication such as email, voice over the internet (VoIP) and video conferencing, are integrated into one service. Both social networking and UC fundamentally rely on the use of the cloud to store data and communications and the internet to transfer them so that they are accessible across devices and locations.
Instant messaging (IM) is an integral facet of both and in many cases can be purely cloud based so that conversations can be continued across different devices and on the move as an alternative to more traditional mediums such as email and text messaging – the latter of which is particularly restricted to individual devices. Apple, for example have even integrated instant messaging into their default text messaging app so that messages are sent as IMs when sent between two iPhones. On the other hand, a prime example of UC within the personal space is Skype, a multi channel communications service which provides access to your account from any device and will sync conversations across each.
Social networking services such as Facebook, Google + and Twitter are an often overlooked but powerful example of cloud computing as all of the information you share on them is stored and accessed via the cloud including communications, recommendations and shared media (photos, videos etc). As such, they have become one of the primary communication platforms for users of mobile devices as they are able to share their experiences with their friends and see what they are up to whilst they are on the move. For many people, mobiles have, thanks to cloud computing become the primary way of accessing their social networks because of the ease and flexibility with which they can be used.