We all use a multitude of personal cloud apps, both at work and at home. But getting meaningful tasks accomplished can be frustrating, particularly on mobile, as files, data, and workflows fragment across the various services we use. Take for example finalizing and signing a contract on iOS. This would involve fetching a document from email, annotating it, signing it, and sending it back to the client. Today, no one app can do all that, and iOS and Android offers very limited data-interoperability functionality with both Open In and Android Intent features.
We’re seeing three types of personal cloud startups emerging to offering capabilities to link across apps, services and devices:
Access: search, unified visibility, and portability for files, photos, and information.Younity networks and delivers content across your devices using P2P technology. And Otixo facilitates data interoperability across cloud services within a virtual file system-type interface. Simply drag and drop to move files from one service to another.
Interconnection: tasks and data flows that use info from multiple services.Ink facilitates workflows as an alternative to iOS’s Open In.
Lenovo’s made three strategic moves in just one month: 1) Buying IBM’s x86 server business, 2) Reorging into four business units – most importantly including one called “ecosystem and cloud group”, and 3) Buying Motorola Mobility. The later two are driven by the mobile mind shift – the increasing expectation of individuals that they can access information and service, in context, in their moment of need. Smartphones are central to that – as are the ecosystem and cloud services that deliver value through the smartphones.
Lenovo has stated intentions to become a leading smartphone maker globally, building on their leading position in the China market. Buying Motorola Mobility is a much quicker way for Lenovo to access the premium smartphone market with a leading Google Android (not forked Android) offering - than trying to do it with their existing design teams and brand reach. Using Motorola, just as Lenovo used the IBM ThinkPad brand, to gain quick credibility and access to desirable markets, and built critical mass makes a lot of sense.
But Motorola has not been shooting the lights out with designs or sales volumes in smartphones. So the value is simply in brand recognition to achieve market recognition faster - and to dramatically expand the design and marketing team with talent experienced at US and Western markets.
I’ve been experimenting for the past year or so with several proactive assistant apps to guide my day — they remind me to get on conference calls with clients, offer to text participants if I'm running late to an in-person lunch, and keep me in touch with friends and colleagues. Some of these apps also integrate Salesforce, Yammer, and BaseCamp for job-specific context and assistance.
Among the most popular apps, Google Now personalizes recommendations and assistance by applying predictive analytics to data stored in email, contacts, calendar, social, docs, and other types of online services users opt in. Other examples include Tipbit applying predictive analytics to make a more intelligent inbox, and EasilyDo using the notification system to recommend ways to automate common everyday tasks. Expect Labs is tackling this space from the other end of the spectrum, offering an intelligent assistance engine for enterprises to plug into and add proactive features to their own apps.
Here’s what we think:
• Vendors will experience burnouts and early customer frustration, much like in voice recognition. In the music industry, it’s said that an artist is only as good as her last hit. We saw that analogy apply to voice recognition when users got frustrated at Siri as soon as she failed once on them. Expect a similar dynamic with all types of predictive apps.
How much stuff do you own? The answer for most people ranges from a few changes of clothing to a large house full of possessions – your material self. It turns out that most of us also have a digital self – the information and items we create or that others collect about us. It is your footprint, your impact on the digital world. Without a digital self, you don’t exist in the world of computers and the Internet.
The era of Internet has spawned riotous new forms of business disruption as cheap tools and services combined with Internet reach and social media have empowered anyone on the planet to compete with the largest, most established businesses. James McQuivey’s reports and book on digital disruption highlight the fast rise of new hardware devices such as Microsoft’s Kinect and Apple’s iPad, and the fast mainstreaming of new Internet services such as Dropbox, Twitter, and Facebook. Companies in the business of retail, books, movies, and music have been toppled or transformed, with more to come.
We attended the recent Glimpse Conference 2013, where members of New York's tech scene came together at Bloomberg headquarters to talk about social discovery, predictive analytics, and customer engagement.
Our key takeaway from the event: small, real-time data coming from very personal apps like email, calendar, social, and other online services will fuel next-level predictive apps and services. Specifically:
• Better insight doesn’t require more data; it needs the right data. Amassing large databases of customer profiles, purchase history, and web browser activity only goes so far, and is costing companies millions, if not billions of dollars every year. Mikael Berner from EasilyDo sees a new opportunity in better utilizing data scattered across personal email indices, calendars, social networks, and file and content repositories that directly indicate customers’ plans, interests, and motivations.
• Email, calendar, and location data is a goldmine for predictive analytics. Expedia or TripAdvisor can track web activities to recall a user searched for hotels last November and is likely to travel again this year, but a flight confirmation sitting in email or vacation time logged in calendar is a much stronger indicator of travel plans.
Apple’s WWDC keynote was rich with details of new versions of the OS X and iOS operating systems. The lead off video was the best articulation yet of Apple’s design philosophy - in my words, Apple focuses on continuously improving usability while evoking great emotional experiences, while simplifying and avoiding excess features.
The new Mac Pro demonstrated that Apple is committed to continuing deep hardware innovation - the cylinder shaped system is the size of a large flower vase, but packs huge power for pro users.
It’s difficult to immediately absorb all the rich, deep improvements in iOS 7 and OS X. For customers, it means a richer, more engaging, and helpful experience that is best appreciated with extensive hands on time.
iWork for iCloud will bring office productivity to all the major web browsers, not just Safari. But the long term was unclear. Is Apple aiming to help people at work, or only for their personal stuff, forcing them to switch between Microsoft Office or Google Apps and iWork as they move through their day?
Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.
They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.
They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop.
And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.
They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.
Apple has already announced that it’s got 100 million signups for its personal cloud service, iCloud, and repeated that today. Now Apple supports movies — in addition to TV shows and music — in iCloud. Apple added PhotoStream to iCloud support in Apple TV, including the previous black Apple TV, with the new Apple TV software update. With the new iOS iPhoto app, I believe Apple will use iCloud to sync albums and the new journal information that displays weather information from the date a photo was taken — although full support will probably require an update or new version of iPhoto on the Mac.
Apple’s vision of personal cloud deeply integrates across Apple products and a wide range of personal and purchased content, including books and iTunes U-class materials. It’ll be interesting to see if the company opens up any API access. My hunch is that Apple will create tools and an app store for iCloud to interact with the personal content in the service rather than do large-scale API access.
Employees that use smart devices — PCs or mobile devices — for work have expanded their use of technology more than most people realize. How many devices do you think a typical information worker uses for work? If you only ask the IT staff, the answer will be that most use just a PC, some use a smartphone, and a few use a tablet. But our latest Forrsights workforce employee survey asked more than 9,900 information workers in 17 countries about all of the devices they use for work, including personal devices they use for work purposes. It turns out that they use an average of about 2.3 devices.
About 74% of the information workers in our survey used two or more devices for work — and 52% used three or more! This means that the typical information worker has to figure out how to manage their information from more than one device. So they’ll be increasingly interested in work systems and personal cloud services that enable easy multidevice access, such as Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, Google Docs/Apps, Windows Live, and Apple iCloud.
When you dig into the data, the mix of devices info workers use for work is different than what IT provides. About 25% are mobile devices, not PCs, and 33% use operating systems other than Microsoft.
The name of Apple’s event today “Let’s Talk iPhone” indicates where much of the news focus is — on the new iPhone. But that focus distracts vendor strategists from understanding the deeper implications of Apple’s advances in online services and user experience.
Apple’s iCloud is an important new software platform and service that will integrate Apple’s customer experiences across their iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Mac products. This first version creates a personal cloud experience of the individual’s work, personal, and purchased content being seamlessly available across all their Apple products, in contrast to the fragmented experience of Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. Beyond music plus contacts, calendar, and email, Apple is supporting iCloud push in iMessage, Safari’s Read It Later feature, and push distribution of photos. Be sure to watch Apple’s iCloud concept video — that really conveys the personal cloud idea.
The Siri feature is the beginning of a new user experience built around context that will eventually create a much more personal, intimate experience for using all of Apple’s mobile and Mac products. Both of these offerings will have enduring impact beyond the latest model of the iPhone. Though only supported today on the iPhone 4S, I believe it is the beginning of a new form of interacting with all mobile devices and PCs. Voice control and input have not been widely used despite long-standing offerings from Nuance and Microsoft’s Tellme, though they do have strong adoption in specific segments. Apple’s integration of the user’s context will make the experience compatible with mainstream users.