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January 16, 2011

A Cloud-Centric Web Makes Device & OS Switching Easier


There is a tug of war going on in your mobile devices and your desktop OS - between the world of apps and that of cloud-based Web services. The applications, usually designed and optimized for your particular environment, serve as familiar tools for you, and improve your productivity, bring you news, enabling you to do new things or they may simply entertain you. Not all those applications are on every platform, and the more you choose to purchase on one device, the more it is assumed you have some share of "switching costs" or, in a more antiquated word, "lock-in" to your selected OS.

In parallel, one sees a rise in Web services and apps that tap into cloud-hosted data, without demanding the data be stored on your local device. As applications become increasingly cross-platform and feature equal, this, in combination with the mass migration of data to the cloud, is reducing vendor lock-in and making it easier for consumers to make radical switches in their desktop or mobile environments - be it by operating system or the device itself.

If money were no object, I would be delighted to have desktops with the latest Windows, Mac or Chrome OS installs at my disposal, surrounded by mobile phones and tablets bearing logos not just of Android and Apple, but BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7. The rise in importance and prevalence of cloud data, and access to the true Web on all these devices (for the most part) makes their core differences less dramatic than in years past. Meanwhile, most application developers are executing in tandem for the top operating systems in desktop and mobile, meaning you can find your apps in a new place, should you choose to switch.

(See also: BetaNews: Laplink Switch & Sync -- posted tonight)

In 2010, I first switched mobile operating systems, and then switched phones on that OS. The first move took some effort and app discovery, but most my data was in the cloud, especially including all my email services, contacts and browser bookmarks. Switching between phones was even easier, as on Android, I was able to redownload all my paid apps from the Android market, free of charge. By the end of the year, I also had my hands on the ChromeOS-based CR-48 notebook, the most radical change yet, foregoing local apps for cloud-based ones, and making the Web browser the center of the universe. And yet, I've survived, going back to the MacBook Air for archived email and heavy-duty apps for Office and photos, but keeping pace on the Web.

A year ago, I called for OS and App neutral data, which removes the ownership of my content from the service providers themselves and gives it back to me. Recognizing mobile providers' core offerings, I started my migration to the cloud in earnest when I first picked up the MacBook Air. I've failed somewhat in keeping apps off the device, out of necessity, but most rich media gets moved off to the local Time Capsule, and from a 128 GB hard drive, smaller than my last laptop, above 50 GB are left. Clearly, I have more cutting to do.

The move to the cloud means I am no longer a Mac person or a Blackberry person or a Google person, but instead a Web person. So long as I can configure the device to find my information elsewhere, it is less necessary to be concerned about the hops needed to try and switch or test out a Windows Phone 7 handset, or what would happen if the Blackberry Playbook entered my life. Similarly, migrating from the Samsung Galaxy Tab to a Motorola Xoom would be extremely simple - just like my move from EVO to Epic in the fall.

Asymco says for every iOS device, be they iPhones, iPads, or iPods, users have downloaded more than 60 apps on average. No doubt have we exceeded this number ourselves, but also on the Android platform - some of which are duplicates of the other. I purchased MLB At Bat for iPhone, iPad and Android, and would probably get it for the Mac App Store if it was there too. But the availability of the top apps on most of the top platforms makes my loyalty to any one particular device or OS a temporary one. If I've put $200 or $300 of my money into apps on iOS, and about $200 on apps on Android, it's a one-time allotment of sunk costs, no greater than a prepayment penalty on one's mobile phone contract. But the technical hassles between devices are going away as the cloud becomes the center of all we do.