From “Mobile Apps” To “Mobile Cloud Apps”

In order to define and understand the world of mobile cloud applications we look at a progression that goes:

1. App
2. Mobile app
3. Mobile cloud app

Mobile Apps is a sprawling and, already very vibrant area. To analyze Mobile Cloud Apps, we introduce the concept of Mobile Cloud APP WORLD (shown schematically on the diagram below.)

Diagram - Mobile Cloud App World

In the diagram we show three over-arching characteristics; APP WORLD is:

a) Fed By a number of sources;
b) Managed By cloud platforms; and
c) Accessed By mobile devices.

To simplify, we show four sources feeding APP WORLD – 1) apps that have been fixed cloud apps and have gone through a transformation to make them suitable for mobile use. As, is to be expected, in the early stages of the mobile cloud (which we are currently in) this is the primary initial source of apps.

Then we progress to 2) mobile-centric apps – apps in which some characteristic of mobility is so ingrained in and essential to the use of the app, that they would not have wide meaning or application outside of the mobile milieu. The most prominent example is apps that inherently rely on location-based information (e.g., where is the closest parking lot?)

We separate out another source of mobile cloud apps – 3) device-driven apps. These are apps that rely on a capability, i.e., sensors that are increasingly being incorporated into mobile devices, e.g., accelerometers, and are not common or useful in fixed devices. These sensors (as well as the mobile-centric features listed in 2) above), open up the discussion of a key aspect of how we expect mobile cloud apps to progress, namely the area of contextual awareness.

We also separate a category 4) that we define as Transcending Capabilities. In particular we focus on Voice Recognition and Augmented Reality. In some cases, these capabilities may be thought of as apps in themselves, but we view them principally as capabilities that will enhance underlying apps to increase their consumer acceptance, utility and value.

In progressing from a mobile app to a mobile cloud app the developer addresses the impact of cloud computing on the mobile app. The cloud computing paradigm provides a wide range of places for the mobile app to reside and creates a range of thin to robust client architecture options. The Cloud creates an important architectural alternative for the mobile app developer. The mobile cloud, with LTE/LTE Advanced/802.11n/ac, creates the capability to disaggregate the Von Neumann computer model. Having 100mbs to 1 gbs links between CPU, I/O and Memory (storage) permits mobile app developers to have access to low priced, fast response memory and additional processing power.

The management aspect of mobile cloud apps, is fairly straight forward. Cloud platforms can include public clouds of the type that are being rapidly developed, principally along the path pioneered by companies like Amazon and Rackspace. Platforms may be proprietary ones. This distinction, however, does not necessarily have significance for the app itself. We also show, in the upper right hand corner of the diagram the direct link to Big Data sources and applications.

Finally, access to mobile cloud apps is obviously from mobile devices. These devices, it should be noted, are also integral to most of the sources that we identify as “feeding” the Mobile Cloud APP WORLD. Integral to this mobile apps world, and touching every element of it, are a limited set of software operating systems, globally, all in a sea of ever improving wireless and terrestrial communications networks.

Enterprise – The Unique Issues

We have made a broad distinction between the world of Business or Enterprise mobile cloud apps and everything else, which we have put under the category of Personal. The reason for this is that we find that in the enterprise sphere, at this time, mobile clouds and mobile apps are not viewed as a distinct priority. This is because the enterprise is trying to deal with what it generally views as two fairly separate phenomena: 1) Cloud and 2) Mobile (largely BYOD – bring your own device).

Underlying this uniquely enterprise (and by enterprise we include institutional organizations, such as government, hospitals and others) situation is a process, probably more like a battle or struggle, to come to grips with the future of IT establishments with all of their resources and power, particularly inside of massive business and other organizations.

BYOD and “consumerization” have become the shorthand for this struggle. Our broad conclusions are that there is so much at stake, because the cloud cannot only re-define organizations, but also business models, that the cloud, the mobile cloud and mobile cloud apps will over the next few years swamp resistance in the enterprises.

In short, we believe that enterprises will be dragged into a recognition over a, probably short, period that mobile cloud is a critical phenomenon.

Personal (including Consumer and General) Mobile Cloud Apps

We find that, in what we have labeled as the Personal mobile cloud apps area, developments are surging ahead, driven partly by entrenched superpowers of the mobile cloud world, e.g., Google whose presence appears in almost all areas, as well emerging and start-up developers, and even from academic sources. We are mostly focused on how the mobile-centric aspects of apps and the device driven capabilities are being explored and where this can lead.

We conclude that perhaps a key theme bringing together the dynamic capabilities of development that can drive mobile cloud apps to be a society-changing force is: context awareness. Context awareness is not a simple feature or app. Rather it incorporates inputs from the widest imaginable range of sources: search, various device capabilities (sensors), cameras, GPS, social networking and others. It uses the inputs to tailor information and responses to the user in the most personalized possible method.

Context awareness is being developed and pushed from a number of sources, which include work on utilizing sensors, areas such as facial recognition and others.

Mobile Cloud Apps – Are They “Apps,” “Services,” “Functions”?

We have used the word “apps,” however, we caution readers not to misinterpret what we are discussing.

We have serious reservations about the word “applications” or “apps” because the term apps has become so thoroughly identified as: software routines that may come with a device, or can be obtained, typically from an “apps store” and that reside on the user’s device. The term “apps” implies some distinctive, adjunct function of a smartphone or other mobile user device.

The mobile cloud, of course, entails items that will (in whole or in part) not reside on the user device. So the question arises whether the term “apps” will be able to describe what is going on in the mobile cloud for long. To the extent that the mobile cloud in its current state of development is offering primarily simple, unsophisticated functions, e.g., storage, calendar, the term apps is unlikely to cause any confusion.

However, as we progress to more and more complex functionality, what is offered may hardly seem like the type of app users are today accustomed to. Then it may evolve that a lot of the offerings may be viewed as something like a Service or simply a cascade of Functions that can be drawn upon.

Understanding the world of tomorrow’s application is to study a system of software elements that may be highly discrete and distributed, that are cloud connected which, when working together, give a desired result.

In addition, the mobile cloud is going to be a crucial element in the growth of M2M (machine to machine). The mobile device itself, say a sensor for reading vital signs for medical monitoring purposes, may embody a significant portion of the “app.”

Finally, we expect to see, in the next five years and beyond a proliferation of various versions of “thin ” devices. Many of these will have less and less resemblance to a “smartphone.” Many will be reduced to merely high quality displays with input capability (storage and processing functionality residing elsewhere, i.e., in the cloud.) The reason why is because the mobile cloud removes from the innovator the need for elements of an application, e.g., storage, processing, input, to be physically packaged together.

As these developments unfold, the mobile cloud will become a repository of services, functionality and capabilities. We can call them apps today, but they will surely be more suitably described by other terms in a few years.