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It wasn’t long ago that we stored files on floppy disks and CDs. After that came USB flash drives and portable hard drives.
The next wave of computer storage and file backup is the cloud – and it will mean the death of physical storage, including our cherished DVD collection.
The cloud – or cloud computing – is really just a metaphor for the Internet and personal storage on a network. So it’s not exactly new. But increased bandwidth has made cloud storage more practical for both personal and business applications.
The cloud is like a hard drive in the sky, allowing users to store files on a computer network, accessible on-demand from any device with an Internet connection.
Users can upload documents in addition to music, photos, and video as well as use the cloud as a backup service. Files can be stored on the cl
oud rather than saving documents on a local computer – or physical forms of storage – and thus only accessible from that device and susceptible to crashes, accidental deletion or file corruption.
An Internet connection is required to access the cloud; though files can be saved from the cloud to a local device (computer, smartphone, tablet, etc) for offline access.
Services like Dropbox, Google Drive and Carbonite Online Backup save files automatically from a local computer by syncing when files have changed. Multiple users can have access – with permission – to the same cloud drive for easy collaboration on projects.
There are public clouds – also known as shared clouds – and private clouds – also called internal clouds, which feature added security and control – as well as hybrid clouds that combine the two. However, most small businesses would be fine with public clouds like Google Drive or Dropbox.
Subscription cloud services are being offered by the Internet’s biggest players including Amazon, Google and Apple. Most companies are offering a free amount of storage space to start, with premium-priced storage upgrades. Amazon and Apple cloud users can purchase music online and save it directly to the cloud or upload their own music collection. Google Drive also touts music storage with its Google Play Music Manager, a branch of the new Google Drive.
How big is the Cloud?
Want to know how big of a player it already is? How many of the digital photos you own are already stored on Facebook, Flickr or Instagram? These services are holding your photos free of charge on their servers – on their cloud. Last year, Facebook was storing a reported 140 billion user photos, at the time representing 4 percent of all photos ever taken.
Today, more than 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day by its more than 900 million users.
I predict that Facebook will introduce personal cloud storage this year, a space to store files, as well as share and collaborate on projects with team members or friends. This would go head-to-head with Google’s new Google Drive, which replaced Google Docs when it launched in April. A Facebook cloud would also go hand-in-hand with the rumored Facebook phone. Facebook did not respond to my request for comment on cloud storage.
How you can benefit from the cloud
You can sign up for free cloud storage today. Whether you want to save files directly to the cloud for safety or collaboration, or use it as a back-up service, you can get started in minutes.
The cloud isn’t limited to just documents, photos and music. Walmart has been pushing a disc-to-digital service called UltraViolet which converts DVDs to digital copies. UltraViolet, which launched eight months ago, has attracted three million users. For an extra $2 per DVD or Blu-ray title, users can purchase a separate cloud-based digital version as well as a digital copy in Walmart’s streaming-video service Vudu. The disc-to-digital conversion includes older DVDs that consumers have already purchased.
How I use the cloud: Google Drive and Dropbox allow me to work on documents from the cloud and save them directly, without downloading them to my computer. This allows me to access them at work, at home or anywhere I have an Internet connection. It also provides me with a higher level of security, in the event my laptop becomes damaged or stolen.
Since my files are on the cloud, they are everywhere I am.
The latest version of Microsoft Office is entirely cloud-based. Microsoft Office 365 combines email, calendars, documents, web conferencing and Microsoft’s full line of Office products in one web-connected cloud service for easy collaboration among team members.
Cloud storage services are in a heated battle to see who can store the most user-data. Photos and music are at the forefront. Movies are next.
What’s next for the cloud?
Say goodbye to DVDs. In the future we’ll store our home movie collection on the cloud. Similar in effect to the way we operate our Netflix library. Buy a movie from Amazon and it’s stored directly to our own personal cloud. Blu-ray discs already come with a digital copy. Soon they’ll come with a cloud copy.
Today’s products and services are geared toward mobility: laptops, smartphones, tablets and entertainment services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Slacker and Spotify. Mobile is taking over.
The cloud is the next logical step in connecting our content to our devices for business and entertainment.
The next five years will lay the foundation for cloud storage. As broadband speeds increase and high-speed Internet becomes ubiquitous, the cloud will play host to all of our digital lives and make physical storage obsolet
Introducing FIVE TECH PREDICTION FOR 2012.
5. Content producers skipping the middle man
Zimedium called it on May 8, 2011. In a post titled My predictions for Internet TV and the future of Cable.
“I’d watch for more studios and content owners to explore options for skipping the middle man and becoming the means of distribution for their content.” (See story May 8, 2011)
Louis CK did it seven months later — this December — for his special Live at the Beacon Theatre. Instead of distributing the video through Netflix or HBO, Louis CK put it exclusively on his website. All fans had to do was visit his site, pay the $5 price and download the special. So how’d it turn out? Well, in 12 days, Lois CK’s DRM-free video download made a cool $1 million. And it’s still going…
Louis CK’s special is only the beginning. In 2012, more will follow his model. Entertainers, content providers, even premium cable channels.
4. Customized Ads… Tailored to your purchases, browsing habits, check-ins and interests
Ads customized to your interests. Google does it best. Hulu’s already doing it with in-show ads and its Ad Swap feature. You can select what you like instead of watching what Hulu thinks you’ll like. Facebook does it. Facebook displays ads based on what fan pages you like. Foursquare does it too, by offering suggestions based on where you check in. Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley discussed the company’s Explore/Recommendation engine at LeWeb 2011 in early December 2011.
“We went through about two years of Foursquare where people thought that they were checking in for mayorships and points and badges. The check-ins weren’t just for the badges,” Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley said on stage at LeWeb 2011. Every time you tell us that you like to go to this sushi place, we get better about recommending you another place to go to. Every time you tell us that…you know a lot about this area of Paris or this are of New York, we know that you’re really familiar with that neighborhood. And we can suggest other things that you may not know about. Or we know when you’re in areas that you’re not so familiar about we can start offering things that help you out.”
Ads based on what you “like,” tweet, check-in, watch. Information you provide both voluntarily and data acquired based on your actions. Get ready to not hate the ads that interrupt your programming…at least not quite as much.
In 2012, Customized Advertising will be king. Whether you’re aware of it or not.
3. Video-game consoles becoming complete entertainment hubs
We called it an entire year ago, on Dec. 27, 2010. In a post titled When will PS3, Xbox, Wii incorporate Internet TV.
“…When will Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo enter the [streaming content] game themselves? Doing so would offer another bit of differentiation, another perk for owners of each console.
“Who will be the first to fully embrace streaming content or Internet apps?
“Because it’s going to happen, and whichever is the first to act will only begin the next trend in video games and possibly home entertainment as we know it.” (See story Dec. 27, 2010)
Xbox 360 introduced its revamped dashboard one year later, in early December of 2011. The new dashboard featured Internet apps including Netflix, Epix, SyFy, ESPN, Daily Motion, NBC News, Zune, YouTube and Live TV integration if you have the accompanying cable subscription.
In 2012, Xbox will roll out more apps and the rest will follow. It’s only the beginning. The future video-game console will be a complete media hub with dozens, possibly hundreds of channels and apps.
2. Entertainment on the Cloud
I hate the term “cloud storage.” Makes me think the cloud is only for backing up files. In 2012, the Cloud will become more than a backup service. Cloud for movies…music…pictures… and our movie libraries.
(I’m looking at my collection of DVDs and Blu-rays right now.) In 2012, our movie collection will extend to the cloud. Blu-rays already come with digital copies. How about a specially formatted “cloud copy”?
1. A BIG Netflix competitor
Through a few missteps in 2011, Netflix has enjoyed practically zero competition (or at least serious competition). Its maintained the largest number of video subscribers anywhere and built up its library of streaming content. Plus exclusive content on the way.
Zimedia predicts in 2012, one new company (or a service from a partnership of companies) will emerge as the biggest competitor Netflix has seen to date.
But it won’t be the death of Netlfix. In fact, few industries survive without competition. It’s good for business. It fosters growth, sometimes re-invention, and an improved user experience.
Mobile is looking like Web 3.0 with the emergence of mobile devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook; the rise in smartphone usage; and the explosion of mobile apps. It’s not just for work. Mobile is taking over our lives. Work and play.
We’ve compiled the Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity, from the workplace to strictly entertainment.
Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity
1. Cloud Drives
Storage & Music
Standalone Cloud storage services like Dropbox receive most of the press. But Amazon’s variety comes with a music store.
Amazon is also a great place to store your music. Music purchases from the Amazon mp3 store can be saved directly to your cloud. And thus can be accessed anywhere and with a growing number of devices including smartphones and tablets. Start off with 5 GB of free storage. Just sign in, sign up for your free 5 GB and start uploading files for backup, storage or to listen to your tunes without taking up space on your mobile device.
Hundreds of companies trust Amazon Web Services for their storage and hosting needs, including Netflix — which accounts for 25% of US Internet traffic — Yelp, Foursquare, PBS, Washington Post, Razorfish, SEGA, Urbanspoon, Tweet Deck, Airbnb, Harvard Medical School, NASA, Virgin Atlantic and more.
2. Google Apps
Calendar & Google Docs
It’s time to move on from Outlook, people. Google is the place to be. When I use Outlook for email or the calendar, it feels like I’m navigating a rotary phone…plus it’s tied to a machine. Google Calendar and Docs, as well as gmail, is tied to nothing; it’s all on the cloud. Access all of it on any computer, any smartphone, tablet or mobile device. Get calendar reminders on your smartphone.
With Google Apps (formerly Google Docs) user can save Documents, open Office products like Word and Excel — with or without Microsoft Office. When you save documents in the cloud — like resumes, presentations, pictures — they’re always with you.
Google’s smartphone apps — and native integration with most mobile devices — make all of your documents, calendar appointments and messages accessible anywhere with an Internet connection. Save documents, presentations or pictures as a backup or for instant access on any of your devices.
To get started, just sign up for gmail and click “Documents” at the top. [Note: if by the time of this post, Google has changed its navigation bar to a drop-down menu, just click the drop-down and find Documents.] Then start uploading files or Create a new document.
3. Smartphone Apps
There’s an app for that. It’s not just a saying. There really is an app for everything. News, Shopping, Books, Movies, TV, Social Networking, Checking in and just about anything else you can think of. Some of Tech Weekly’s favorites free apps for productivity and entertainment on the go:
- Pulse News Reader – News from all around the web in one place
- QwickMark QR Code Reader – Scan QR codes with this free app
- ShopSavvy – Scan product bar codes to compare prices online and stores near you
- Netflix* – all of Netflix instant streaming on your smartphone
- Crackle by Sony – Free movies and TV on your smartphone
- NFL Mobile – NFL News, Highlights and Live Streaming video
- Amazon – Browse and buy everything Amazon on your smartphone
- Amazon Kindle – Kindle’s library at your fingertips
- Amazon mp3 – Listen to your library of songs from Amazon’s cloud drive
- Slacker – Slacker Personal Radio on your smartphone
- Foursquare – Check in to earn points, become mayor and unlock specials
- Twitter – Follow your interests or tweet on the go with Twitter’s mobile app
- Facebook – Update your status, check the newsfeed, check in or chat with friends
- Shazam – Can’t name that song on the radio, just click Shazam and it’ll tell you
- Flickr – Take photos and upload them to Yahoo’s Flickr
- Yelp – Check reviews or find a new place to eat with Yelp’s smartphone app
MyFax makes having a fax machine unnecessary. In fact, MyFax improves upon the old-school fax and then some.
No download necessary, just sign up for a MyFax account and you’ll be assigned a MyFax number. (You can pick the area code.) Once you’ve signed in, just click “Send a Fax.” Then enter the recipient’s fax number and attach the document you’d like to fax. Either scan the page to your computer and attach to the MyFax interface OR if the file is already on your computer, just attach. MyFax comes with some cool features including Cover Page Style; Status Flag for Urgent, Review, Comment, etc; and a Message Box. The recipient receives the fax in his/her fax machine, just like a normal fax.
Receive faxes right in your MyFax inbox as PDF or JPEG files. MyFax alerts you immediately via email. In fact, you can view the fax in your email inbox. If you’ve got email on your smartphone, you can view the fax right there. MyFax is a must for mobile work.
Send 100 faxes per month and receive 200 for only $10. Other options include Send 200, Receive 200 for $20. Or Send 400, Receive 400 for $40. Or an unlisted option of Send 50, Receive 50 for $5 per month. The plans can be changed at any time, though you’ll have to call MyFax to do it. Ironically, for an online fax service, you can’t change plans online. Though email is taking over, many businesses still fax documents. So ditch the fax machine and extra phone line and give MyFax a look.
Netflix is the best thing to come to TV since color. It’s move to mobile only strengthens its hold on streaming movies and television content. And once you’ve got a Netflix subscription, it’s free on an unlimited number of devices. Use your one Netflix subscription on TVs, tablets, smartphones, etc. At home and on the road.
Until you’ve streamed Netflix content on a mobile device, it’s difficult to understand. A library of more than 20,000 titles available instantly with the tap of your finger. It’s as close to a dream as you’ll get.
To get started, just sign up for Netflix (streaming subscription starts at $7.99 per month after 1-month free trial) and download the Netflix app for your smartphone or mobile device. You’ll only have to sign in the first time after you download the app. From there on out it’s blue skies and smooth streaming.
Netflix is available on more than 700 devices including PCs; Macs; Internet-connected TVs; video-game consoles; Blu-ray players; Internet video players like Roku and Boxee; iPhone; iPad; Apple TV as well as Android and Windows devices…and more.
This is a great time to be a consumer. Companies are battling to release the next greatest advancement in technology — whether it’s NFC, Cloud Storage, Streaming Video or even Social Networking — and the consumers are ready and waiting. The instant a company releases a new product or service, the competition follows suit.
And that makes today’s consumer more connected than ever.
Brand extensions are to blame for much of the competition in technology today. Foursquare brings about Facebook Places. Skype leads to Google Hangouts. Square brings mobile payment to the forefront, with PayPal and Google following closely behind. Facebook (and MySpace before that) brought the rise of the social network; Google is now employing a brand extension with Google+.
A Brand Extension is when a company known for a particular good/service attempts to extend its services to another business category beyond its initial range.
Now, the current landscape:
Facebook vs. Google+
Facebook has been king of the social networking world since it overtook MySpace in 2008. MySpace was recently sold to Specific Media and entertainment artist Justin Timberlake. It’s future is still uncertain.
In the limited beta release of Google+, Google goes head to head with Facebook. A similar scenario to its battle with MySpace, only Google+ seems better equipped.
Google+ invites are on the streets as the company seems to be opening up its social network to more users. It’s limited beta at first offered only short windows for invites from current users. The service already is reported to have users in the millions, after a little more than one week on the market. Facebook, meanwhile, recently confirmed it has acquired 750 million users.
Square vs. Google vs. Paypal
Mobile payments are a hot topic, and the most popular service is likely Square, which hit $1 million in processed payments after less than a year in business. Square was launched by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in May of 2010.
Square allows users — whether it’s for personal or businesses use — to accept credit card payments using a smartphone and Square’s free mobile payment device, through which users swipe their actual plastic cards. (Square does not use NFC technology.)
Google unveiled its Google Wallet offering, a partnership with Citi, MasterCard, First Data, and Sprint. Google Wallet is an Android app that makes your phone your wallet. It accomplishes this by storing virtual versions of your plastic cards on your smartphone.
Using Near-Field Technology (NFC), users will be able to pay via their Google-Wallet equipped smartphones simply by tapping the phone on a checkout reader, available at many merchant locations.
And most recently, PayPal bolstered its mobile offering on July 7 with the $240 million acquisition of mobile-payment service Zong.
Zong partners with hundreds of mobile phone carriers around the world and allows users to enter their mobile phone number to make purchases. The charges are then applied to the user’s monthly mobile-phone bill.
Zong was eBay’s second mobile acquisition. The first was Fig Card, a Square-like device that allows users to accept payments with credit cards by swiping them through Fig’s USB-powered reader.
Foursquare vs. Facebook
Location-based applications allow users to ‘check-in’ via smartphone and share their location with other users of the service or other social networks. Users are able to see who else is checked in at a given location (from all users) or friends in nearby locations. By checking in, users receive points and/or badges and can unlock certain specials determined by the retailer.
The most publicized of these location-based apps is Foursquare. Today, there are a reported 8 million Foursquare users, up from just one million a year ago.
With the introduction of Facebook Places and other location-based services like Whrrl, which was acquired by daily deals service Groupon in mid-April, companies are copying Foursquare’s model. And vice versa, as evidenced by Foursquare’s recent inclusion and emphasis on its Yelp-like service directory Explore. Brand extensions are on display everywhere we look.
In June, Fast Company took a closer look at Foursquare vs. Facebook Places.
Video Inside Social Networking
Google vs. Facebook
Facebook Video Calling will feature one-on-one video calls to your friends, a stripped-down version of Skype from what I understand. (Note: that’s not me in the screenshot; it’s a Facebook promo screen.)
The biggest advantage with Facebook Video Calling has when compared to Skype is that users don’t have to sign-up and login to Skype to chat; they simply do so through Facebook.
Google+ Hangouts allows group video chats with up to 10 participants, a sort of live chat room among your friends.
When Google+ Hangouts feature is launched, you can choose whom to invite in the video chat or simply alert all friends (or any other Circle) that you’re hanging out. And then wait for someone, among the Circle you’ve selected, to respond. (Note: that is me in the screenshot below, chatting with no one.)
As you can see at the bottom of the chat window (above), YouTube is also accessible via Hangouts.
I haven’t really discovered how YouTube can be used inside Hangouts. But I did watch Cake’s The Distance. I guess if my friends were on there we could have all watched it together…and then checked all of our reactions?
Google+ Hangouts and YouTube might be useful for work-related presentations. This service encroaches on GoToMeeting‘s territory. Now I’ve just got to find some people who want to have a meeting about Cake.
Amazon vs. Apple
On the Cloud, users can store music, videos, photos, and documents, which are then accessible from any computer or device with an internet connection and access to the cloud.
Amazon starts users off with a free 5GB of storage space. The 5GB of free space is about enough space, Amazon says, to store 1,000 songs. This first tier is free and you’ll never be charged for it. If a user purchases a digital album from Amazon’s mp3 store (amazon.com), it’ll upgrade your 5GB of free storage to 20GB. Other pricing/storage options for the Amazon Cloud range from 20GB to 1,000GB of space.
Apple iCloud operates in the same way as the Amazon Cloud Player, with iTunes integrated into iCloud. Everything purchased on iTunes is automatically accessible on the iCloud, in addition to other apps, photos, books and documents.
Some companies like Amazon and Apple have tied their digital music services directly to Cloud Storage. Others like Slacker and Pandora are offering a more entertainment-centered approach.
Pandora makes things easy for listeners: subscription free and on nearly every device you own.
Pandora got its start on the computer. But the company is making even bigger leaps away from its traditional home on the PC; Pandora is now available on smartphones, tablets, televisions and a select number of automobiles.
According to a published report from Advertising Age, more than 50 percent of Pandora listening accomplished on devices other than the PC.
Slacker, however, is beginning to outshine Pandora in both integration and subscription options. Slacker offers three ways to listen. The first tier, like Pandora, is free of charge (but with ads) and allows users to create a custom station based on a particular band or song. The second is a paid subscription plan that provides unlimited song skips and is ad-free; Slacker Radio Plus is $3.99 per month.
Slacker also has a partnership with ABC News, with news breaks at the top of each hour for subscribers of either Slacker Plus or Slacker Premium Radio.
Slacker’s newest subscription is called Slacker Premium Radio. At $9.99 per month, this service includes everything available in Slacker Radio Plus as well as on-demand music, allowing listeners to search for and play songs on-demand, or songs from a particular artist. Slacker Premium Radio encroaches on MOG’s and Rdio’s territory — a brand-extension of sorts — by offering on-demand music.
It’s an exciting time for both consumers and businesses. Each service is experiencing tremendous competition — which only fuels innovation — as companies vie for the consumers’ time, interest and money.
The customers ultimately decide which products succeed and which ones flop. Therefore the success of these businesses relies much on us, the consumers, and in our experiences with these products and brands and how seamlessly we can integrate them into our lives.
The best technology becomes second-nature, like a brand extension of ourselves.
Source: PC Magazine, cbsradio.com, siriusxm.com, pandora.com, slacker.com, usatoday.com, cnet.com, radioink.com, Ando Media, Mashable.com, Mediapost.com, TechCrunch, Tech Crunch TVFast Company, Mashable, Techmeme, CNet, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, Engadget, CNN Money, MacWorld, AdAge, All Things Digital, The Next Web, Foursquare, Google, Facebook, Pandora, Slacker, Square, Paypal, Amazon.
The dividing lines between Netflix and its cable competitors were blurred even further when Comcast, the largest cable operator, announced it will begin testing an IPTV service, a method of delivering content through the Internet.
Comcast announced on May 25 that it will start testing IPTV, an acronym for Internet Protocol Television, at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, MIT, in the coming months.
IPTV can be used for Live Video, On-Demand Video (VOD) and delayed programming like a DVR. The technology is already in use today. Netflix, Hulu Plus, Roku, live-streaming services like U-Stream and Live Stream, as well as AT&T‘s U-Verse TV, are all using the Internet to deliver video content straight to our television sets.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association held its 60th annual Cable Show last week in Chicago’s McCormick Place. The Cable Show is a three-day event that displays the latest technology and innovations in cable. From delivery methods, to content, to advertising and promotions.
Comcast displayed its Xcalibur guide — which uses the cloud and features a comprehensive search engine and social media components — through an IPTV connection.
Comcast also recently announced a partnership with Internet-video-conferencing service Skype, again utilizing IPTV. More on that in a future post, but here’s a quick video from NCTA, showing Skype on Xfinity TV:
If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now: the future of television is through the Internet. And Comcast is proving it won’t sit back and let other Internet services push it aside.
Comcast is fighting back with the introduction of its own IPTV delivery and partnership with Skype in an attempt to fend off rivals like Netflix and maintain its position as one of the largest media conglomerates in the world.
“We want to deliver video everywhere people want to watch it,” Comcast’s president of converged products Sam Schwartz was quoted in The Wall Street Journal. “We have to do a better job getting people to realize what they are paying us for.”