In January Smart Design San Francisco hosted its first Smart Salon of the year entitled “Living In The Cloud”. An expert panel and lively audience contributed to a rich conversation about cloud computing and its implications for everyday people.
The panelists included:
Mark Davis – Autodesk; Senior Director, User Experience
Drew Garcia – SugarSync; Vice President, Product Development
John Kiechel – Smart Design; Associate Director, Industrial Design
Dan Saffer – Smart Design; Director, Interaction Design
Tim Fisher – Smart Design, Business Director (Moderator)
Below are the key takeaways that emerged from the discussion. And, please watch the video for more highlights from the discussion.
A Common Definition Still Eludes Us
Surprisingly, a universal definition of “the cloud” still does not seem to exist—at least one that is common across consumer and IT audiences.
Consumers seem to have a general awareness that the cloud relates to the Internet. For them it is a place where content is stored or accessed remotely. For consumers, the cloud makes things easier by “giving you access to your stuff” across multiple devices and platforms. The specifics of how this happens are not important—only that it works.
For IT and tech professionals, “the cloud” has a more specific definition relating to remote storage, remote processing, software-as-a-service, and infrastructure-as-a-service. IT organizations can reduce costs by subscribing to cloud-based software, infrastructure and services that they don’t have to create or maintain internally. But risks abound for IT pros considering the cloud. Data security, privacy, and reliability become big concerns as soon as core services are ‘outsourced’ to the cloud.
The Promise of the Cloud
When everything’s hooked up right, the cloud can deliver delightful moments that make it feel like things just work together, and content is available almost anywhere. These simple yet powerful moments are delivered via platforms with great technical complexity. The user may have no idea how things get done (and they probably like it that way). By hiding complexity and presenting users with simple-to-understand experiences, cloud-service companies stand to gain new users, faster.
What some are calling the consumerization of IT is helping to fuel cloud services: the experiences we have on our smartphones and laptops are setting new expectations for software and services delivered for the enterprise environment. In a similar way consumers with mobile devices are leading the migration to the cloud. After all, many people’s first cloud computing experiences (whether they knew it or not) took place on a smartphone app.
After just a few experiences magically accessing valuable content via multiple platforms (like Netflix through a laptop, an Pad, and on an Xbox for example), people quickly expect that cross-platform experience to be seamless across nearly every device—across PC, Web, mobile, tablet, TV, and even in the car. For software and device makers, this introduces a huge challenge. It’s really hard to deliver an experience that feels consistent across a variety of platforms, while at once feeling appropriate and “native” enough to each device to be really rich.
The Pitfalls of the Cloud
While processing power and memory used to be the main constraints on quality of the computing experience, today bandwidth is the new limiting factor. Bandwidth is the new bottleneck. At home or on-the-go, people will continue to expect high-quality experiences across platforms and the wired or wireless pipes that deliver the data will be put to the test to deliver satisfactorily.
Remember when your photos lived in a shoebox and your CD’s all fit on one shelf? Then everything went digital and they lived on your hard drive—but they were still yours. As people increasingly adopt cloud-based services for everything from music, photos and movies, to email and document collaboration, people are having a hard time adjusting to the idea that their content lives somewhere else (like a server farm in the middle of nowhere). They may even pay a subscription fee to ‘rent’ content per use, and forego owning anything outright at all. Your music isn’t “yours” anymore. There’s no doubt that we’re all headed in this direction, but getting there is going to take people time to get used to. Designers and providers of cloud-based experiences must recognize this hesitation and take steps to ease adoption.
Moving personal (or enterprise) data to the cloud introduces a whole slew of concerns around trust and security. The long-term security and confidentiality of this data becomes paramount. Consumers can be especially concerned with the mixing of work and personal data within a single service. Designers and cloud service providers must take care to overtly reassure users what content ‘lives’ where and who can see it.
The Future of the Cloud
In IT and consumer markets alike, few are willing to dive into the cloud head-first, risks be damned. Instead, “freemium” subscription models can give people an easy on-ramp for trying services out before committing further. And “hybrid” experiences that allow for storage to be some combination of cloud and local can also ease users into the cloud paradigm.
Companies seeking deeper relationships with users should stay open to standards that enable other platforms/services to hook up with theirs. The cloud will have a leveling effect that moves people from a platform mindset to one of interoperability and ubiquitous computing freedom.