I remember way back, once upon a time when I unboxed my first pre-iPod mp3 player — I was absolutely certain I had stumbled upon some alien technology. How could all my music fit on such a small little memory card? What would happen to all those burned CDs sitting on spindles on my desk? How long would it take for some new technology to come along and make my shiny chromed-out mp3 player obsolete?
While we haven’t reached the age of brain-implanted electronics just yet, I’m sure if I told my 15 year-old self that I keep all my personal files “in the cloud,” it would seem just as impressive. But today the cloud is about much more than just uploading and downloading data: it’s about taking complicated hardware or expensive computing systems and keeping them separate from the user experience. I often think about what it would be like to bring an iPhone back in time to the days when computers took up entire buildings. Can you imagine explaining to someone that not only is that entire system condensed in the size of a wallet, but that most of my data is somewhere sitting on a server waiting for me to access it? What sorcery is this?!
Though cloud solutions are still in an infant stage of development, we’re already seeing amazing applications of cloud technology in today’s media. Most people are aware of Apple’s new iCloud service, which frees music, videos and documents from their hard drive prisons, but the cloud is more than just a way to store your content. Video game platform OnLive lets you play many games that would ordinarily require expensive and powerful hardware to run, and they do that by using the cloud. They run the games on their own hardware, and stream the video to your devices, removing the need to upgrade to that $500 video card. Granted the service has its faults and is heavily dependent on your Internet connection, but it is still a welcome change to the industry.
Will this mean the collapse of hardware giants like Apple or Microsoft? Not quite — while the cloud might alleviate the need for hardware, there will always be a demand for new software to run all the latest cloud-based apps. Some companies such as Adobe are using cloud subscriptions to change the way we buy software, moving away from a “buy now, upgrade later” model to more of a monthly rental system. Don’t have the $2,500 to pick up the latest Creative Suite 6 Master Collection? No problem, just rent Photoshop for less than $20 a month. While this might not be the ideal system for most people, it definitively allows Adobe to open up their software to more people without expecting them to sell an arm and a leg up front.
I am very excited to see where things go from here, and whether or not the cloud is the answer to a never-ending cycle of buy, upgrade, sell. Only time will tell, and who knows — maybe the next big thing is just around the corner.
Looking for cloud-based goodness? Check out these links:
Adobe CS Subscriptions
Cloud-based Mac rental: