The Cloud Completes the Connected Experience

Owners of iPhones are probably tired of hearing all the AT&T “network issues”, dropped calls, or other user experience degrading issues. I’m certain AT&T is also tired of hearing the complaints. I know the customer service agent who took my call last week had a fair bit of experience with iPhone customers calling in to complain. But this post is not yet-another bitchfest about AT&T’s network or how I love the iPhone…except for the phone! In experiencing the stellar experience with the iPhone platform and its extreme dependence on the network, I’m reminded of just how important the carrier experience is for the overall positive user experience.

Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, agrees with this. He delivered an engaging keynote appearance at Mobile World Congress stating the importance of the cloud, i.e. operator network, in the device and application experience.

“We feel very strongly that we depend on the successful business of operators globally,” he said. “We need advanced, sophisticated networks.”

Eric was reacting to an audience member’s statement that Google would basically make the operator network a “dumb pipe” and all the value would be over-the-top. But I disagree with this mindset. The connected experience that we are increasingly engaging with our smartphones, app stores, data, and social media would incur a tremendous amount of friction and dissatisfaction without the right networks in place and operating properly. Good session and roaming management will yield great experiences to end users, and that results in sticky, ARPU-rich subscriptions to all kinds of services and applications.

“Applications are sharing-intensive, and the cloud is all about sharing and replication,” Schmidt explained. “An application that does not leverage the power of the cloud is not going to wow anybody.”

It’s hard to find a successful application on an iPhone or Android device that does not have some sort of persistent or recurring network connection. Whether it’s location, gaming, messaging or productivity, the application experience is enriched with a great network. It seems that I’m stating the obvious however the notion of Over-The-Top has been on the minds and desired of users and application developers ever since the first walled garden went in place. Yes, many mobile computing platforms will have a variety of applications on them and accessing services in the cloud that are relatively transparent to the billing platform of the wireless operator (maybe the application specifics, but not the bits). The ultimate Always Connected User Experience will happen only with the integration and cooperation of the end-to-end value chain elements. This includes the pipes!

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Floating Among the #Cloud…#Services

The importance of device characterization, content adaption, and cloud services is absolutely critical to a positive Always Connected User Experience (ACUE). Today I bounced back and forth between my iPhone and Kindle 2 reading snippets of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (GREAT book so far, as usual from the author of The DaVinci Code).

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Without getting verbose, these were the essentials of my positive Always Connected User Experience while waiting for my car’s oil change.

  1. The page sync is automatic between the 2 devices so I never have to worry about remembering where I was. It wasn’t always this seamless…back in the stone ages of Kindle 1 I had manually sync many if not all the time.
  2. The adaptation of the content is performed to the device’s capabilities (screen size, display technology, I/O, dynamic features such as accelerometer). Obviously Apple (obvious, I think) would not have approved the Kindle for iPhone app if it had not met the specs for what they typically consider as a stellar user experience. In a nutshell, it just works!
  3. Yes, the content does in fact reside locally on both devices, so it’s not what I’d call a classical “connected cloud service”, but the content originates and remains available in the cloud no matter what I do locally on the devices. If I wipe my iPhone, I just reload the app and book, and I’m right back to the same page I left off on.

One key element of the overall ACUE equation is the transport media, but since the content is cached locally on the device (probably always will be) this is not as important other than the time to download. Where this becomes important is when less of the content resides locally and what the device side gets is rendering of the content. So if Amazon were actually rendering the book content and pushing me each page as I flip to the next page, I will be begin to care very much whether I’m connected over HSPA, WiFi, or EDGE. I’ll also care about the quality of the connection if I’m moving. Imagine the sorts of outages or failed calls on the iPhone in some of the dreaded “coverage holes” in the San Francisco bay area when I’m immersed in a really good publication or book.

There are many other items such as security, authentication, e-commerce, and so forth that I’m leaving out and of course must be built into the equation. But from the non-technical users perspective, once they signed up for their account on Amazon and purchased their Kindle, they just want it to work without needing any knowledge of an unreliable cellular network, fading, channel congestion, or roaming.

Are we there yet? Ehh, kinda sorta. We’re definitely getting there as users push the capabilities of the applications, services and devices. Apps, services and devices push the capabilities of the network. And the networks push the capabilities of the carriers to react innovatively and expeditiously. Do you agree or disagree?