Since the introduction of the iPhone we have gotten used to expecting more functionality from smaller , more portable devices. Today smartphones ship with dual core chips and cameras more powerful than the digital camera I bought a few years ago. However, even with all the advancement in hardware for these devices they remain constrained due to the limitations imposed by size, weight and battery life. But cloud comes to the rescue, because resource intensive tasks can be offloaded to the cloud. As a result, we can continue enjoying mobility without the restrictions that the mobile hardware imposes. A good example is mobile security apps that offload majority of the data analysis to cloud based servers and thus are able to deliver a lightweight endpoint security solution.
But with benefits, cloud also brings some challenges, privacy being one of them. Earlier this year, both Apple and Google were sued over their location tracking services. And more recently a class action lawsuit was filed against HTC and AccuWeather. The AccuWeather app, that cannot be disabled, tracks user location to within a few feet, and then transmits the location information in an unencrypted form to deliver targeted advertising.
Cloud based apps often store at least some of the users data in the cloud and this information could be sold to a 3rd party or made available to government agencies without the users permission or knowledge. Even if privacy concerns are alleviated, data ownership remains a concern. After all, the app provider could go out of business or retain users data even if the user deletes the app.
Finally some apps rely on cloud for all of their processing and in the absence of a network connection cannot function. The most notable example of this is Siri. Andrew Nusca on the SmartPlanet blog explains how Siri works – “The sounds of your speech are encoded into a compact digital form that preserves its information. The signal from your connected phone is communicated with a server in the cloud, loaded with a series of models honed to comprehend language. Simultaneously, your speech is evaluated locally, on your device. A recognizer installed on your phone communicates with that server in the cloud to gauge whether the command can be best handled locally — or if it must connect to the network for further assistance. If the local recognizer deems its model sufficient to process your speech, it tells the server in the cloud that it is no longer needed”. In the absence of a network connection, Siri apologizes, even though all you may want to do is play a song on your phone, a task that needs to be handled locally on the phone. But its not just Siri that is rendered useless in the absence of a network connection. Simple Apps such as Calorie Counter by FatSecret cannot function without a network connection and store all of the users logs on their servers.
The good, bad and ugly of mobile apps that use cloud… they make mobile devices more powerful and provide entirely new kinds of experiences but at the expense of privacy, security, data ownership and access. Will the concerns and issues that surrounds these apps be alleviated? TBD