The Consumer Cloud is here. And it is not going away. Over the past decade, there has been a change in the way we purchase and store our entertainment media. I believe that we are nearing the time where we will not need to purchase any physical entertainment media such as CDs, DVDs or Blu-Ray discs.
The advent of the MP3 player encouraged us to ditch our CDs in favour of storing all of our music on our computer’s hard disc. MP3s (and AACs) do not take up much space relative to the size of a hard disc which makes it possible to store an entire music collection on a computer. As the storage capacity of MP3 players increased, it became very common for someone to carry their entire music collection in their pocket.
The story is somewhat different for video simply because a good quality video file is much larger than a good quality audio file. Up until recently, available bandwidth in the home was small preventing downloads of large videos within a reasonable time frame.
A game changer in the 00s was the introduction of the set top digital recorder (like the TiVo or the Sky+ box). Instead of using physical media like video cassettes or DVDs, one could record on a hard disc and watch the programme at any time. And also the live pause feature was very useful. This set the scene for on-demand services where one can watch what they want, when they want.
The best way to watch a movie in the home is to obtain a Blu-Ray disc (or a image of one) and watch that. The HD movies on the Apple TV and similar services are highly compressed. Downloading a Blu-Ray image, which is anything up to 50GB, isn’t something that ideally can be done on demand. I would have to download such a movie to a computer, the “media hub” of my house, and then watch it.
However all this is changing. Storage prices and bandwidth prices go down every year allowing us to download more and stream more, and means that providers can store more for de-duplication of files allows providers to store one and only one copy of each media file instead of one copy for each end consumer. The technology is getting more intelligent. And this is where the cloud comes in – storing your data securely and giving you on demand access to it via download or streaming.
We are using flash storage on our mobile devices which typically means they have smaller capacities than hard disc MP3 players. These days we usually have more media than we want to store on our mobile devices at any one time. We are storing our files in the cloud and getting them on demand either by download or streaming. We don’t want a media hub in our house anymore. The hub is now the cloud outside of our homes.
The Apple TV v1 was very much setup with a media hub in mind – it was essentially an iPod that plugs into a television. The new Apple TV removes the synchronisation and expects to find media in the cloud. It will still use a media hub computer running iTunes but it doesn’t need one. And with the new versions of iOS on the iPhone and iPod, one does not even need to maintain an iTunes library on a computer because all my media (well most – not all video yet) is available on iTunes Match and iCloud. iTunes Match is an excellent implementation of a cloud based music service – all my media is stored by Apple including songs that Apple do not have in their iTunes store and I can download or stream the songs to my iPhone or computer on demand.
Dropbox, Skydrive and Google Drive are based on the same concept but for any computer files. I want to have my files on every device I have. Each device intelligently syncs changes to the cloud. If I lose my device, I do not lose my files, except maybe for a few changes I have made locally when offline.
There are other storage services out there. Storage is now so cheap that I can rent 100GB for less that $100 for 3 years. One such service is GoDaddy‘s which by default presents itself as an online folder but also offers sync like Dropbox’s. Amazon’s S3 service is similar although is designed for use with Amazon’s cloud computing service.
The Kindle is a cloud device. My books are stored in the Amazon cloud and I can get them from any of my Kindle’s or devices running Kindle software. If I lose my Kindle, I simply replace it and I still have my books.
We can now buy our console games online and download to local hard disc. We can put our game saves in the cloud (e.g. Xbox onto Skydrive).
Recently I threw out the majority of my DVDs. Apple, Netflix and Lovefilm between them have enough media to keep me going. I watch baseball via an on-demand subscription service and watch films and TV programmes via the Apple TV and Netflix. I rarely watch live television, not even the news.
The customer cloud is most definitely here for our computer files, books, music, videos and games. There is a competition between suppliers and this will largely be driven by cost. For example, I use Skydrive simply because it is cheaper than Dropbox. I still use Dropbox but I can get more storage on Skydrive for cheaper.
One problem that we will have to solve in the future is what happens when a cloud provider goes bankrupt or offline. A recent example is exposureroom.com (a video sharing site) who appear to have gone offline with no way for users to retrieve their data. Such a scenario has always been a worry particularly when files have digital rights management applied, such as books. If the provider goes bust, how does one access the media without an approved device if one can no longer get one?
But there will be an answer to the problems at some point. We are getting rid of our physical media and de-cluttering our lives. This will have an effect on our consumer market. For example, we will not have paper newspapers delivered anymore as we will do this online or have them delivered to our electronic devices. This means that shops like newsagents will not be selling newspapers and magazines as their primary source of income. The world will have to adapt.
I read two newspapers a day on my Kindle. I never read newspapers much before I had a Kindle because they were not convenient for me. Similarly, I rarely used my Walkman cassette player because of the inconvenience of the media (lots of cassettes). Digital storage and now the cloud is changing the way we live and the media cloud is here to stay. Embrace it. Whilst we have electricity that is.