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The Parallels Between the Smartphone and Cloud Computing Revolutions

By: Eric Olsson


Smartphones and cloud computing have revolutionized how we access and use information in ways that are more similar than you might imagine.

While one is a consumer-centric platform and the other is a business-centric platform, smartphones and cloud computing services are both noteworthy technological forces that have changed the game for individuals and enterprises alike. Their incredible capabilities reach end users in different ways, but there are significant parallels between the two technologies.

Both deliver simplicity and ease-of-use that are far superior to legacy systems, and both are compute-from-anywhere, anytime platforms that are supported by ever-growing ecosystems that make development remarkably easy. To paraphrase the hit AMC drama Halt and Catch Fire, “They are the thing that gets you to the thing.”

Let us explore several of the parallels between smartphones and cloud computing technologies in more detail:

1. Lowering Barriers to Use by Simplifying the User Experience

Apple touted the iPhone as “so easy to use, grandparents and three-year-olds alike can learn to use it within minutes.” This low barrier to usability drove a great deal of success and adoption, especially in terms of capturing technology laggards. Other smartphone makers and app developers have replicated Apple’s mobile experience — an experience built on the graphical user interface and touch — and now all smartphone users enjoy a user experience that includes a significant ease-of-use benefit.

Similarly, cloud technology service providers have continually lowered the barriers to entry of their platforms by focusing on simplicity. Everything from easy-to-use graphical user interface consoles, managed services that remove underlying server management requirements, tooling, and training rapidly boost user success and adoption. A baseline level of technical knowhow will always be necessary, but the burden of fully understanding and expertly managing the underlying infrastructure, platform, and software continues to decrease.

2. Standardizing Anywhere, Anytime

The combination of ever-growing smartphone compute capabilities with a vast app ecosystem has untethered users from their desks, empowering them to work from anywhere, at any time. In the broader consumer sphere, once sacred in-person tasks such as depositing checks and performing banking operations are now routinely performed with confidence from anywhere. Mainframes and desktops required users to make time-coordinated efforts, and even portable laptops have ergonomic and logistical requirements for use. But from the gym to the ski slopes and even underwater, pocket-sized mobile phones are fully operational in nearly every context.

As cloud technology has abstracted away infrastructure and hardware, system administrators, developers, and other practitioners have been able to tap into this “anywhere, anytime” magic, as well, executing a full array of management tasks with location-agnostic convenience. Previously unthinkable amounts of compute power can now be leveraged from the most remote, “thinnest” clients — for instance, a cheap Chromebook on a sailboat connected to the Internet via satellite.

3. Taking Advantage of Robust Ecosystems

Technology ecosystems stem from components of a core entity (platform) and promote growth and development from contributors. Platform providers, third-party contributors, and end users (customers) can all make significant additions to these ecosystems. In the mobile space, today’s end users enjoy a broad selection of apps and services that has been fueled by app population growth and increasing app interconnectivity. Multi-app connections and experiences maximize value for end users as combinations of local and remote storage seamlessly exchange data with other apps through interoperability.

In a similar vein, most major cloud computing solutions now deliver an enterprise-level experience of interoperability between a wide variety of apps, data, and services. Robust cloud ecosystems enable organizations to connect various components to each other to produce highly sophisticated solutions that drive considerable business value.

Looking Ahead

Developers of mobile applications and cloud technologies are also able to leverage system abstractions and resources such as extensive code libraries, SDKs, APIs, integration tools, and managed services — all of which enable them to spend more time, money, and energy on their core business instead of managing lower echelons of app development, infrastructure, or platform management. The way that these resources make development easier marks another key similarity between mobile and cloud technologies, a similarity that will be covered in a forthcoming article.

Ultimately, businesses that routinely develop customer-facing or internal applications or data solutions stand to benefit considerably from cloud ecosystems and cloud-native development practices. “Every company is now a data company,” as common wisdom goes, and this is only getting truer given the rate of digitization of information, processes, and artifacts.

Eric Olsson


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