It seems like every day there is another must-have cloud service being introduced. The need and drive for things to be moved to “the cloud” is ever-growing. Photos, music, contacts, and pretty much anything else you can imagine can be sent to a remote server and accessed from essentially any Internet-capable device. It's easy to see the benefits of the cloud, but why is it important to the average consumer?
Apple seems to believe the cloud has demoted the personal computer from its staple position in the electronic world and rightly so. Before people had two or even three computers to a household, keeping your file system up to date will all of your information and files was a breeze. Now that we have several computers and multiple mobile devices, each with file systems of their own, keeping up with everything is much more difficult and time consuming – if you don't use the cloud, that is.
The cloud – or leased storage on a remote, virtual server, if you want to sound nerdy – is the easy way to keep all of your e-possessions in one common location.
Apple's iCloud service was announced last week which easily synchronizes your iPhone, iPad, and any OSX machines you may have. It replaces the former MobileMe and even adds functionality like iWork sync, application data, and even backups for your devices, giving you an entirely cordless experience. (What is iTunes again?)
Android devices have also had similar functionality since their inception, thanks to Google's devout love for cloud services. Anyone who has been an Android user knows that upon the bootup process of the phone, you are prompted to login or create a Google account. If you already have an account setup, within minutes, your contacts, calendar and other information will begin to appear. If you have had an Android phone before and your phone supports it (depends on software version), your previously installed applications will also be restored.
Cloud services aren't all about storing and safely keeping backups though, it is also about sharing and preserving that precious, limited flash memory on our mobile devices. Having a phone that takes excellent pictures and videos, I tend to use the camera quite a bit on both outdoor trips to the top of a mountain or to post a picture of the coolest roll of sushi I have ever seen. It's easy to get carried away and to forget how much memory all of this media quickly takes up.
Apple's iCloud will upload the last 1000 pictures taken in the past 30 days. Since I am an Android user, I recently started using DropSnap which will automatically upload the pictures taken by the camera to a Dropbox account. This makes it extremely easy to backup those pictures or transfer them to the computer for editing; by the time you get home, they are already accessible on your PC.
Music has also created a name for itself in the cloud space. Google and Amazon both introduced their similar music storage services, Apple brought iTunes Match to the table, and many take advantage of existing services like DropBox to stream their music from any mobile device.
Other non-native services like DropBox and SugarSync allow you to create and share folders between friends, family members and co-workers. Sure, you can tag each other on Facebook, but using these more private methods of sharing photos, you can share those embarrassing family or baby photos without the world seeing or it being public domain for eternity.
That said, cloud services don't come without a hitch. There are so many services and options that it can become fairly cumbersome. I began using Dropbox well over a year ago and not a day goes by that I don't use it. But I also use SugarSync, Evernote, ASUSTeK's MyCloud, (will use) iCloud and several other services. In short, the cloud can be just as irritating and hard to keep up with as keeping up with physical storage between several devices if you aren't careful. The bigger problem with cloud storage, however, is that it is increasingly popular. It's relatively cheap at the moment, but come one or two years from now, and cloud storage may cost an arm and a leg thanks to high demand.
There is an never ending list of uses for cloud storage and it is growing each and every day. People are constantly finding ways to make better use of remote storage and to make it make our lives and electronic data easier to control and maintain. If you aren't using the cloud to sync files between all of your mobile devices and freeing up physical memory, I suggest giving it a whirl and stepping into the 21st century. You'll thank me later.