Prepare For an Explosion in Mobile Cloud Apps

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A substantial building block for the future success of the cloud was put in place yesterday as Amazon released Software Development Kits (SDKs) for Google's Android and Apple's iOS. These will allow easy access to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform.

If that sounds confusing, here's the short version: Amazon has just made it a piece of cake for even modest programmers to make phone and tablet apps that can use its cloud services, such as Simple Storage Service (S3).

This is likely to bring a slew of cloud-enabled applications to phones and tablets. Even better, however, it might encourage a whole new generation of apps that creatively make-use of cloud services to offer new and exciting functionality for mobile workers.

The mobile cloud revolution just might be about to start.

Prior to Amazon's move, programmers behind mobile apps who wanted to make use of Amazon Web Services had to create their own means of accessing it. This added substantial overhead to any project, and put Amazon Web Services beyond the reach of some. With an SDK, most of the hard work has been done, leaving programmers free to concentrate solely on the app's functionality and interface, both of which can make or break an app in the highly competitive marketplace.

Although just about anybody can purchase AWS services, including individuals, this hasn't stopped some extremely high-end users from making use of it. The DropBox cloud sync service uses S3 to store files, for example, although users are unaware of the fact. Even NASA isn't afraid to get in on the AWS act.

The chief benefit of AWS is that it's incredibly cheap compared to any other similar solution, such as renting dedicated computers in a data center. Thus it's ideal for bedroom programmers or startup software outfits, who can pay for as much computing power or storage as they need. AWS is also instantly scalable, so programmers needn't worry if their applications shoots from just 10 users to thousands overnight, as can sometimes happen if the app is a featured download in an app store.

The release of the SDK for Android is sure to rattle the cage of Google, whose primary drive behind the creation of the Android and Chrome operating systems is to move users into the cloud--using Google's cloud services, of course, which could allow the search giant to discreetly monitor any data passing through its hands.

Research in Motion and Nokia appear to have been left out of the SDK handout and might be wondering when they, too, will receive some Amazon love. Easy access to cloud services is undoubtedly crucial for the growth of an app ecosystem, which both companies are desperately keen to see happen.

Amazon suggests the new SDKs can be used for things like sharing high scores within games, or creating messaging clients that use Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) and Amazon Simple Notifications Service (Amazon SNS).

This hints at a potential downside of the SDK release, in that it might become a little too easy to create cloud apps--there might be a glut of applications that simply duplicate the functionality found in other apps. On the other hand, today's also-ran IM application might well be tomorrow's industry standard, and, in theory, heavy-duty applications such as photo or video editing applications based in the cloud are also made possible.

Existing apps need not be left out of any potential cloud gold rush. Anybody who's created a mobile phone word processor, for example, now has very little excuse for not introducing a cloud storage element.

Keir Thomas has been writing about computing since the last century, and more recently has written several best-selling books. You can learn more about him at and his Twitter feed is @keirthomas.

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