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Hal Steger

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2012: The Year of the Personal Cloud

Posted: 12/08/11 11:08 AM ET

While 2012 will be the year of the dragon, according to the Chinese Horoscope, 2012 will also be the year that the cloud becomes pervasively personal. Prior to now, the personal cloud was mainly the province of Apple iCloud users as well as early adopters willing to seek out and try third party cloud services. But 2012 is going to be the tipping point of personal cloud adoption by mass market users, due to several unstoppable trends.

1. Smartphones everywhere and more connected devices

2012 will be when smartphones become truly commoditized worldwide with more users accessing wireless data. Whether it is an iPhone 4s, a low-cost Android or a 4G phone, a majority of feature phone holdouts will now upgrade to a smartphone, due to the obsolescence of their existing phone and the affordability of wireless data. The result is that virtually everyone will own a rich media-centric smartphone. In the United States alone, it is estimated that 150M people, or half of the population. will own a smartphone in 2012.

At the same time, people will realize that not every photo or video taken with a mobile phone is worthy of posting on a social network. While many more people will be using smartphones to capture mobile media, rather than post it on Facebook, they will want an easy, secure and non-public place to store their personal photos and videos. The personal cloud will become the primary way for mass market users in 2012 to wirelessly and transparently sync smartphone photos and videos to their own private cloud area, for backup and selective sharing of user generated content.

2012 is also when low-cost connected devices such as the Kindle Fire and other Android tablets become much more prevalent. These devices are primarily for enjoying rich media such as e-books, magazines, newspapers, movies, TV shows and music. Their limited storage and dynamic content will increasingly blur the line between device (offline) and cloud (online) storage. This makes it much more likely that mass market users will get more accustomed to accessing and securing commercial content via personal clouds.

In 2012, more people will be juggling multiple wireless devices, including mobile phones, laptops, tablets, mp3 players, e-readers and cameras. When people had just one wireless device, such as an iPod or smartphone, it was possible to sync it with a computer and cable. As multiple mobile devices prevail, the ability to cable sync them diminishes. Wireless syncing via the cloud is coming of age and will be of particular value to people as they use multiple wireless devices on a daily basis.

Even everyday items such as TVs, picture frames and cars are getting into the personal cloud act. Most new TVs are connectable to the internet, via cable or Wi-Fi. This allows them to tap into one's treasure trove of digital data and content in a personal cloud. E-picture frames are significantly falling in price and will likely be a popular holiday gift -- with the ability to show the newest photos from your smartphone on a relative's e-picture frame in another location.

The 'multi-screen' consumption of content, whether user generated or commercial, and regardless of wireless device, will become more common in 2012. In addition to TVs, this includes cars which are increasingly connecting to the cloud, allowing drivers and passengers to access diverse information such as address books, calendars, maps, email, pictures, videos and files from a vehicle.

2. New and improved personal cloud services

In addition to device-centric personal clouds such as iCloud, a variety of innovative personal cloud services will be offered in 2012 by a range of providers, including carriers, consumer electronics companies and retailers. These services will be accessible by billions of users. The combined availability of these services will help to educate and encourage mainstream users to increasingly store, access and share user generated and commercial content in personal clouds.

Today, many people remain unaware of personal clouds and their capabilities and benefits, but this is starting to change. This is in part due to mass market media television ads from companies including Apple (iCloud), Microsoft (to the cloud) and IBM who are promoting the virtue of personal clouds. The ability to secure one's digital content in the cloud and to transparently access it anytime, anywhere, across one's mobile and connected devices is making the transition from tv commercials to family rooms and workspaces around the world.

3. Cloud-based commercial content

Not only will consumers and business users have wireless devices capable of capturing and playing mobile media, and not only will they become more aware of the ability to stream or sync media on their various devices, but commercial content itself, such as music, movies and tv shows, will be increasingly packaged and priced to be acquired via personal clouds in 2012. This will elevate the consumption of commercial media via personal clouds versus other channels, as it is more economical and convenient.

Apple iTunes, Google Music and Amazon Cloud Drive are just three examples of content providers that are encouraging users to purchase music and videos and store them in a cloud where they can be accessed across multiple devices, such as smartphones, tablets, personal computers and TVs. Media consumption via the cloud will become the preferred channel for people to purchase commercial content. It is likely to be copied by other providers of commercial content, such as brick-and-mortar retailers, as quickly as they can, otherwise, they risk being left behind these digital content pioneers.

While these trends will rapidly spur the adoption of personal clouds in 2012, there are some roadblocks and obstacles that will affect adoption. These include the natural rate at which people absorb and adopt new technology, looming caps on mobile data plans, and potential new internet charges for streaming media. But these challenges aside, industry experts and analysts agree that the personal cloud will be one of the main mobile trends in 2012. The Yankee Group recently released their list of top 2012 mobile predictions and rapid personal cloud growth was chief among them.