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The Cloud is The Mobile Device: Mobile Platforms Won’t Matter

More thoughts today about mobile platforms.  I found an interesting article yesterday called “Are there too many mobile platforms?”  (You just have to love Twitter) It’s an interesting question.  I remember asking  myself the same questionwhen Samsung’s Bada platform was announced.  In fact, I’ve asked myself a similar question on more than one occasion….even as far back as January 2009.

As we know, the world of mobility changes very quickly, so 18+ months in our little universe feels like it’s passed in dog years….that means your favorite canine has aged the equivalent of 10 years since I asked the question last.  It seems to me like an appropriate time then to revisit  the question.

With the continued onslaught of individually liable devices and ever more powerful platforms (e.g., RIM’s new BlackBerry Torch), our mobile device choices are getting ever more refined…or confusing if you prefer to look at the glass half full.  We here, as well as on other web locales, have spent much time debating the whole issue of managing multiple mobile platforms and the challenges that arise from it.  I’m starting to wonder if within another 18+ months we just won’t care. (Side note, I can’t help but think of the NSFW YouTube video of iPhone 4 vs. HTC EVO every time I say “I don’t care”)

In any case, I think back to John Gage (the 21st employee at Sun Microsystems) and his now famous phrase “The network is the computer.”  Can I paraphrase the line and say “The cloud is the smartphone.”???  Actually, with more and more vendors considering developing other form factors using mobile OSs, maybe I’m better off saying “The cloud is the mobile device.

With 18+ more months under my belt of studying the (enterprise) mobility market – with all its wonderful nuances and subtleties – I am increasingly of the mindset that the mobile OS will over time stop being the management choke point.  This will happen because of (mobile) cloud computing.  I don’t need to beat the dead horse that is all the hype around cloud computing because everyone else has been doing a great job of it.  However, the cloud and HTML5 bring up a very simple question.  Why have native apps?  Why not just run everything in your mobile browser? (OK, two questions).

So if more and more apps are going to live in the proverbial cloud, so too will services such as Pandora.  All your favorite consumer apps, including streaming Netflix will be fully accessible via your mobile browser.  So too will your corporate email (even more so than what we can do now) and so will your other enterprise applications and data repositories.  This is all plausible because 4G is becoming increasingly real.  Sprint obviously has had WiMAX out for a while now, and Verizon is set to open up its LTE markets soon, nevermind what our friends in Europe are already deploying.  Smartphones now have Ghz processors, gigabytes of memory & storage and rich user experiences.  Are these now not just MIDs that can also make phone calls?

Now the question of course that doesn’t get answered with this scenario is on-device data encryption….but isn’t that somehow easier than having to deal with policy enforcement and other configurations?  Does the question of mobile device management shift more to a security centric story where all the “other” IT management “stuff” goes to the cloud?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  (I fully expect one person – make that two people –  in our little community in particular to chime in….)


  1. Posted August 11, 2010 at 22:15 | Permalink

    Once we have ubiquitous network coverage then perhaps native apps won’t be as necessary. But we are a long way from that. I think we will see a hybrid environment for a long time to come – local, highly interactive apps done natively, blended with access to the cloud for database, streaming media and social connections.

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    • Posted August 11, 2010 at 22:30 | Permalink

      Totally fair point Cimarron….but given that we live in dog years, how far is “a long way from that?”

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      • Posted August 12, 2010 at 06:55 | Permalink

        How quickly will the “big network” infrastructure providers take to build out a network? I can’t even get reliable 3G at my house. In the US, I would say the geography is against blanket coverage for at least 5 years (is that 35 dog years? not sure)… Add to that the still-competing standards, and I think we’ll be designing Apps designed to handle intermittent connectivity for awhile.

        Back in the day, AT&T was given a mandate for “Universal Coverage” by law. We subsidized the rural areas in exchange for almost-100% coverage of wired line phone service. I don’t see that happening again in the wireless world anytime soon.

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  2. Posted August 12, 2010 at 00:45 | Permalink

    Judging by the ever-increasing success of native apps market for iPhone/iPad it seems to me that a “Platform” (e.g. iOS and Apple Apps Dev SDK) is still somewhat more important then both the “Cloud” or “Smartphone” concepts…

    Also regarding “Cloud” – if by that we mean ability to have a centralized storage for our documents & other data that is synchronized across a variety of platforms – yes it is really a BIG thing…

    But as far as having only web apps and alleviating the need for native apps – does not seem to happen… Remember this was the approach that Apple touted for iPhone – “web apps only” and then they released a Native App Dev SDK and see what happened – a whole new booming industry was borne into existence…

    Even for business, having a “presence” in native app stores (esp. iPhone/iPad ones) became a prestige factor – in a similar way as every reputable organization in late 1990′s felt obligated to get a presence on a “www” – even if it was a “postcard”-like website… now there is a pressure to have a “branded app” presence in appstores…

    It might be an artificial phenomenon based on superficial factors, but there are so many apps that consumers and business users pay (pocket) money to buy, whereas they would not go to a FREE web-app that provides the same functionality… and IMHO that is not due to lack of network connectivity (as most native apps rely and require it as well), but some sort of subjective “human factor”…

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  3. Posted August 12, 2010 at 00:53 | Permalink

    I don’t see native apps giving way to web apps in any near future… on the opposite I see that “device platforms” like Apple’s iOS may eat away the market share from the desktop platforms… I can already see far more useful (and affordable apps) existing for iPhone/iPad than there ever existed for Mac OS and I think it will surpass Windows too…

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  4. Posted August 12, 2010 at 03:43 | Permalink

    Although HTML5 and Faster Wireless Connection(4G or Next Generation) will flourish,
    I think we still need to consider “intermittent network connection” in some places.

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  5. Posted August 12, 2010 at 10:17 | Permalink

    Yes, of course the cloud is the device. In a land far, far away there exists a browser and that browser looks like no other you have ever used. It looks like the screen on your device and everyone has a screen that is customized to their liking automatically based on their previous experiences. And, that browser goes from device to device without a hitch and without the need to customize. Ah yes, I’m dreaming of course.

    Either Apple or Google has garnered 100% market share and we’re either all iPhone users or all Android users. Or, there’s a new platform and the line between the platform and the cloud has completely disappeared. I’ll bet on this last one – a cloudform.

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  6. Posted August 12, 2010 at 10:20 | Permalink

    The Cloud is The Mobile Device: Mobile Platforms Won’t Matter

    That title says a lot. I think I like the second half of the title more than the first. The first however, is unique and in a way, that makes sense.

    Your last paragraph really hits home for me. Is encryption all that is needed? If everything is in the cloud… perhaps. Would that be awesome for meeting compliance standards and regulations, you betcha! Easier maintenance, support, cost savings….yes, yes, yes. I swear that I have heard this similar story for laptops which started a few years ago. Something about bringing back the dumb terminal. Something about am image on a stick. I think that is still slowly catching on however, I don’t believe that really works for a lot of workers so, it can only go so far. Should that stop the other half of the mobile world from trying, no. I do hope companies are shifting as much as they can to the cloud. It only makes sense.

    That leaves us with the platform. Do different platforms for smartphones matter? In my eyes, not really (this coming from a guy who does not think it matters on laptops and netbooks either). Of course, this assumes that IT Operations have the tools needed to support the user’s device (company owned or employee owned). That includes being able to prove their in compliance with company, private sector, and governmental regulations when that device goes missing. Or…being able to track what is coming in and going out of their cloud.

    Try this on for size:

    “A device is a device, the distinction is irrelevant” – Jonathan Dale

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    • Posted August 12, 2010 at 10:24 | Permalink

      I just can’t help but go back to the original premise that “the network is the computer.” Do you agree with Gage’s ~25yr old comment? Aren’t we (almost) there yet? I’m no cloud expert, but it seems to me that an important set of issues there is access/security/federation. How is that materially different for mobile devices that access those web services?

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  7. Posted August 12, 2010 at 13:18 | Permalink

    ((Network = Cloud) & (Computer = Mobile Device)) = “the cloud is the mobile device” :)

    Do I agree with the quote? Yes. Technology changes, regulations change, risks change. It is not always black and white. I do feel that how someone can read into or interrupt the quote matters.

    The cloud has many dangers and treats everyone as equals. I’m in agreement with your above comment. Will there be ways to make a mobile device (or is it really the mobile data anyway) safer than the traditional laptop of yester years, sure. Until then, we better work in the known and implement safeguards. Does that mean by doing so we are protecting the cloud or the endpoint device?

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    • Posted August 12, 2010 at 13:24 | Permalink

      “Does that mean by doing so we are protecting the cloud or the endpoint device?” I think you just made my brain hurt.

      Your other comment that I actually can speak to is that at the end of the day, it’s ALL about the data. The device, by definition, is just the vessel for our access to that data.

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  8. Posted August 13, 2010 at 09:07 | Permalink

    Good thread going here –

    Since 2007 I’ve been using the following line: ‘Mobility is the exclamation point at the end of the SaaS sentence…’

    I haven’t quite figured out yet if that agrees completely with the notion that the cloud is the mobile device…but I’m certainly leaning that way.

    For enterprises the real issue is wireless bandwidth – can sophisticated mobile Web apps deliver truly crisp user response? Will the enteprise user be delighted or horrified at the thought of using a Web app for heavy duty business use? is quite useful – but most sales people I know love it as much as they love Siebel! A necessary evil…

    AT&T’s 3G doesn’t get us there. Will LTE? Possibly…very possibly. LTE coupled with HTML5 (and in partuclar including HTML5′s data persistance on the device capability) may very well push us towards a full-fledged Web app-only world.

    My AT&T 3G comments aside, everyone should go over to the AppStore and download AT&T’s WorkBnech for iPhone app – a native iPhone/HTML5 app that delivers true enterprise=grade app management and enterprise grade security for enterprise Web apps. (Full disclosure – the company I’m associated with, Antenna, is behind Workbench, and we’re moving forward on various permutations of WorkBench frameworks…). WorkBench, which also keeps personal and business side apps in literally separate worlds, begins to get to Philippe’s notion for the enterprise.

    Devices, meanwhile, need bulletproof encryption. Period. They also need bulletproof two and three factor authentication (depending on how critical the user and the data being accessed is). Period. Policy management (and policy enforcement) will remain critical – it doesn’t go away. In fact, with millions of people hanging out in the cloud and hackers being the clever folks they are, it becomes more critical. I’m sure here is a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode in here somewhere…

    Keep your enterprise apps close, but keep your enterprise security even closer.

    So my update: 2014 – 2015 – Mobility is the three exclamation points at the end of the cloud sentence…


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    • Posted August 13, 2010 at 09:22 | Permalink

      An interesting post:

      For Google, the Cloud Is Its Mobile Future –

      Broadband is key to the successful cloud – any wonder why the Do No Evil Google and Verizon have reached their conclusions?


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    • Posted August 13, 2010 at 09:25 | Permalink

      OK – For the record, I am now waiting for the other person I expected to comment to share his thoughts. What took you so long Tony? ;-)

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      • Posted August 13, 2010 at 11:07 | Permalink

        Heh! Your turn to come over and kick some tires on Mobile Masters – Our new bloggers await you!!


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  9. Posted August 13, 2010 at 14:41 | Permalink

    Mobile OS and handset diversity will not get stable in the years to come. The race has to do with rapid app development and evolution on most popular devices. The cool factor is key and the more cool the more native.

    In my opinion the apps are the cloud, not the devices. The market is not driven by devices, is driven by apps that create the data consumption and social interaction that creates the scale.

    HTML5 vs. Native? Well … success on the apps world are derived from adoption and adoption are driven by convenience, gratification and easy to use. If the app can be done with standard UI components or even HTML5 great, but if you need to create a WOW factor maybe a native specific component could make the difference. Secure off-line mode support are another issue to consider on certain apps beside cool native UI components. In the end HTML5 driven apps require similar effort than native apps and the learning curve is similar. The real benefit from HTML5 apps is has to do with multiple OS support.

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  10. Posted August 14, 2010 at 16:05 | Permalink

    I think we will have native apps for some time. One of the capabilities that has made such an impact on mobile computing is the ability for applications to access device hardware features such as GPS, sensors (accelerometer, proximity, sensor, etc.), camera, etc. Remember the first time you ‘shook’ your iPhone to perform an app function? Not exactly a business-critical capability, but you get the idea. Access to hardware through the browser is making progress (like the W3C geolocation API standard), but there is still much work to be done in this area.

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    • Posted October 17, 2011 at 14:00 | Permalink

      Randy, I agree that native apps are here to stay for awhile. As much as the OS vendors (Apple and Google primarily) work to make their browsers “mirror” core OS functionality, the primary APIs will still be ahead. Another reasonable approach is to have a native app do the main UI work, but rely on “hybrid” HTML5 windows when it’s not practical (e.g., to access back-end systems not amenable to web services).

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  11. Posted August 14, 2010 at 16:31 | Permalink

    Tony – you identified the right needs for the “endpoint” (a.k.a. mobile device). I’m admittedly new to the endpoint security space (obligatory “hooray for McAfee”), but your needs basically describe how larger enterprises manage PC endpoints – if and however they connect to the cloud. And sure, you can deliver security from the cloud/network too.

    Tony’s email foretells of the big trend in enterprise mobility management – and that’s that CISO or the security management team are becoming stakeholders in mobile – really for the first time. I’m seeing the phenomenon play out in more and more enterprises. If you have a sense of intra-IT governance, budgets, etc, you will understand that this is a big, big deal. And heck, it’s logical. There are solid reasons that the security team SHOULD be involved, and their experience/perspective brings great VALUE to the enterprise and their broader IT organization.

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  12. Posted August 16, 2010 at 14:32 | Permalink

    Wow, now here is a view…and yes, I have to agree with it – right on mark Philippe.

    As we move further forward and mobile (and attitudes) continue to develop it is, in my opinion, inevitable. Those that don’t believe it can happen in mobile most likely thought it could never happen in the PC/Server world – but it is.

    Whether or not we like it ‘the cloud’ is going mobile, at some stage!

    Mobisoft Corporation as a mobile application and software provider – will embrace this change (and lead) when the time is right. It makes little difference to us commercially, in fact it will be easier, to release a single cloud app rather than many different platforms.

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    • Posted August 16, 2010 at 18:46 | Permalink

      OK – So I am being feisty here Dan. Take out the Mobisoft plug. When do you think it’s going to happen and when is Mobisoft going to jump on the band wagon? It’s certainly a risk today, but if you agree with me, wouldn’t we all be ahead of the curve if we prep for it today?

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  13. Posted August 18, 2010 at 04:22 | Permalink

    Amazing, just few days after this discussion.. WIRED has erupted with this “revelation”:


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  14. Posted August 18, 2010 at 07:29 | Permalink

    Devices will drive consumers for the next few years or so, which will impede content owners monetisation of their wares… Some of bada’s services are “Cloud” based, its online file storage, remote content management and social networking integration systems especially. bada offers APIs to access its SDK which seamlessly integrates with these server-side services. Developers don’t have to deal with the details (connection set-up, session handling etc.) Those are all nicely abstracted, examples of such services are social networking like integration of MySpace, Twitter, Facebook (with more to come), LBS and map-based services, and m-commerce.
    I agree that once network coverage picks up enough cloud based systems will become possible, but for the budget consumer (around the world), there is always going to be a need for native apps…

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  15. Posted August 18, 2010 at 17:33 | Permalink

    I think the interoperability between native apps especially with Blackberry and Android (e.g. ability to access contacts, calendar, music etc) will be a key advantage native applications have for a while. Obviously libraries such as Appcelerator Titanium try to bridge that gap but they’re certainly not there yet.

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  16. Posted August 18, 2010 at 22:44 | Permalink

    Amazingly, WIRED has recently erupted with this “revelation” with a radical view in the exactly opposite direction:

    It’s a lenghty piece of journalism, but the (big stretch IMHO) point
    they are trying to make is that web apps are dead because
    native took over the world:

    For the record, my take is:

    Why can’t we have both native and web-apps based on what is more appropriate for a given context and use case?

    Why do we need “wars” covered by sensationalized media?

    (Internet is not a zero-sum game, is it? ;)

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    • Posted September 13, 2010 at 14:07 | Permalink

      Oleg is right, it’s not a war, it’s an expanding set of options for what is best done on the device and what in the cloud. And it’s not black-and-white as far as what is native and what is Web app. If you wrap your Web page in a native iPhone app, which is it?

      Or take a look at my company, Formotus, and tell me where you think we fit. We put a client on the phone that is native, but that client renders XML-based business forms that work across platforms. We are managing both the client software and the custom business forms from the Web. So what are we, browserless Web apps or cloud-managed native apps?

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  17. Posted August 19, 2010 at 17:07 | Permalink

    With the number of different devices in a mobile environment, managing them can become tough. For information on enabling iPhones and iPads in the Enterprise, check out this following video:

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  18. Posted August 19, 2010 at 17:13 | Permalink

    Donna Lima said: On August 19, 2010

    With the number of different devices in a mobile environment, managing them can become tough. For information on enabling iPhones and iPads in the Enterprise, check out this following video:
    Donna Lima said: On August 19, 2010

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  19. Posted September 13, 2010 at 12:02 | Permalink

    Philippe, This blog posting is like a breath of fresh air. It is nice to actually read something that contains independent thoughts and not just marketing hype.

    3i has been doing web based enterprise apps since early 2008 (in the area of SAP). We have been using HTML5 (and other technologies) to deliver OFFLINE capable enteprise apps without deploying native apps. When you are dealing with 50,000 users then being able to avoid the deployment/upgrades of native client is a god send to the enterprise. Our market continues to grow as enterprises begin to understand that the answer to mobility is not THICK clients and complicated MEAP deployments….

    3i Solutions Inc

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    • Posted September 14, 2010 at 09:15 | Permalink


      Some great comments there, but I won’t fully agree with you that THICK clients and MEAP deployments are not a viable means to deploying mobile applications. There is no singular “correct” answer. Don’t forget that many companies still run mainframe applications! There are enough nuances in every organization that the question becomes “what is best for my organization given its current near-term infrastructure plans.”



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