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The IPad data dilemma: Where cloud storage can help

Mel Beckman | Feb. 22, 2011
Tablets and cloud storage seem like a marriage made in heaven, but it takes third-party apps to bring them together

Unless you think outside the box and tap into the cloud -- stash your files in cloud storage, from which you pluck them to work and to which you push them when done. Then everything syncs everywhere, so your changes are immediately reflected on your tablet, your desktop, and your boss's desktop.

Alas, the cloud-tablet marriage hasn't worked out that smoothly, largely because tablet OS makers seem to have not considered cloud storage in their designs. Third-party services and applications are filling the void, helping users juggle a huge variety of file formats and object types. But tablet OS makers offer little or no built-in cloud support, which is holding back ubiquitous cloud adoption.

The problem is not just with Apple's iPad. Despite having a year or more of iPad experience to factor into their own development, the iPad's competing OS developers also haven't addressed this problem directly. Google's Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" edition, HP's WebOS for its forthcoming TouchPad, RIM's QNX-based BlackBerry Tablet OS for its forthcoming PlayBook, and Canonical's imminent multitouch Ubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" all appear to lack specific cloud support.

The cloud storage apps step into the breach Back at the dawn of the iPad (less than a year ago, believe it or not), Apple fan Robert Mozayeni queried Apple CEO Steve Jobs by email: "...I was wondering if there was any way to get my documents onto my iPad, through either or iDisk?"

"Yes," replied Jobs, without elaboration. Apple did deliver on that implicit promise for both its still-beta collaboration site and the MobileMe cloud service's iDisk virtual disk feature.

Alas, poor Mozayeni neglected to tell Jobs that he wanted to put the documents back after editing them on the iPad. Apple didn't deliver that capability until the November iOS 4.2 update, and in any event, the trick only works for subscribers of Apple's $99-per-year MobileMe service. Apple provides no interface to other cloud storage services -- you need an app for that.

There are in fact apps for that, with innovative solutions providing both an alternative to MobileMe's annual subscription and functionality beyond Apple's meagre MobleMe/iPad sync capability. These products cover a wide range of capabilities and prices, with a visible trend toward extra-cost business-class features such as collaboration, encryption, support for multiple users, reporting, group permissions, and rebranding.

These mobile cloud services predate the current tablet craze, by dint of being launched two or more years ago to provide convenient file sharing among desktop users or to deliver bulk enterprise-class cloud storage. They've also been serving cloud storage capabilities to smartphones. As a result, numerous developers have incorporated access to these third-party services in their smartphone apps, many of which also run on tablets.


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