Cloud Based Mobile Devices

August 10, 2014

I have been using mobile device for the last 13 years for work purposes, from an old school pager to a flip phone to a smart phone and through this what I have seen has been significant stride on technology pushing for newer and better mobile devices. Since a touch screen was added there have been few new actual advancements in tech. Yet companies are still pushing new hardware on consumers ever 8 to 10 months. I’m not saying there haven’t been any advancements but generally speaking we have seen the big companies pushing spec upgrades that most consumers at best don’t need and at worst are stats padding. They push the new shiny out the door on time for the fiscal quarters end to show profits. 

What this means is the consumers are buying for high sums products they don’t need through savvy and relentless marketing. There is a better way we as consumers can get big performance that increases over time out of current and future devices. Increasing the length of time between sales cycles and reducing wasted hardware and money.

Cloud computing, it’s a buzzword but essentially what it means is your smart device becomes a display and input for a computer somewhere else streamed over the cellular network or WiFi. The tech is already here and developers like Gaikai and Onlive had done it through the internet, Steam home steaming can do it on a small scale within a home over WiFi. Finally the current mobile hardware would be overkill for a system like this and could easily be scaled back on spec reducing costs and significantly increasing their lifespan.

The benefits to this idea

Longer hardware life

With the heavy lifting being done not on the device users could use the same devices longer and not suffer from reduced functionality. Not only would a cloud device not slowly become obsolete like current hardware it would actually improve over time as the servers improved.

Reduced old hardware waste

With longer theoretical hardware lifespans people would not have to replace hardware as often and that would reduce a lot of toxic computer hardware currently being thrown away or requiring toxic methods to recycle them. In 2012 the UN estimated there was 50 tons of electronic waste generated and they expect to see it raid by 33% from 2013-2017. Unlike many waste products electronic devices use and contain many chemicals and heavy metals that can cause significant damage to land, water and air.

Longer device battery life

With most of the processing being done by a server farm the mobile device would be using significantly less power on processing and battery life would be less heavy processing dependent. Less hardware needed in the device also means more room for batteries to increase battery life.

More specialized mobile devices

With the form factor no longer limiting the capabilities of a mobile device it opens up space for much more specialized mobile devices. Larger screen sizes and more sensitive touch interfaces for say and artist to do art on with full access to a full digital editing suite all while at say a park. Or a musician could choose a device with better sound input and output and do recordings anywhere with full editing abilities and tools. Someone who does sales could have a projector based system setup to accept inputs from a pointer for a simple self contained presentation system.

Significantly easier to switch devices

Time for a new phone or tablet because it’s old or you dunked it in the toilet? Buy the device, transfer over your account and you’re done. Other than resolution and potential specialized hardware all your data would be set to go out of the box with little to no adjustments needed. If you were using this system as your main PC you could potentially have one desktop environment your whole life and just transfer what devices it’s on.

A single data plan could span multiple devices

Since the differences between devices could be boiled down to resolution and possible minor hardware changes with a decent user interface a user could run the same data over multiple devices. You could have one cloud account and just use whatever device you need for whatever you need it for. Need a phone for going out take your phone have access to all your programs/apps, need a larger form factor for doing some work then take your tablet. Most modern mobile user interfaces would handle resolution changes easily.

Data control and protection.

Since almost all data would be stored on a server and not on a device the loss of a device does not mean the loss of a users data. With communication encryption and on device security a person or company could have full control of where and how their data is accessed and used.

Reduced data processing environmental impact

Since the data processing would be done at a server farm data processing could be heavily optimized. Also with stationary server farms the options for power production increases significantly. Greener power generation means reducing the environmental impact of our growing data needs.

How could this be accomplished

 Mobile devices

The mobile devices become a terminal for a server stream. The devices would need battery, screen, cellular radio, WiFi chipset and enough processing to decode a stream and encode the inputs to send back to the server. Reduced necessary hardware means more space for specialized hardware like a cellphone or alternate inputs.

Video and input streaming

Most recent generation video cards can do H.264 encoding on the fly so you can output the video signal and stream it to the users while simultaneously streaming back their inputs. Steam is currently doing this on a home based scale via their in home streaming, A game is processed on the PC it’s installed on and streamed over the home network to any PC on the same account. This allows a user to have a beefy gaming PC and have access to it’s power on any device that supports steam with little overhead on the system receiving the streaming.

Server farms

Most likely the majority of the servers would be ran by telecommunication companies since they have the infrastructure to handle streaming data to users. Though at the end of the day data is data, private companies and organizations could setup and run specialized server farms to handle their personal data however they needs.

Many small data centers

With a bit of GPS tracking or people letting a company know ahead of time of their travel, their data could be transferred between farms to reduce latency. For long distance travel or even between cities having data able to follow a user would help keep communication between device and servers fast. Small server farms could be setup possibly along side cellular towers and piggyback on the current infrastructure.

Scalable User Interface

The UI for a system like that would need to be very scalable to handle the myriad of different configurations. Almost any of the current PC and Mobile UI’s would most likely fit the bill without to much trouble

Hardware requirements

Companies like Onlive and Gaikai have proven that all the hardware requirements to handles something like this already exist. They successfully were able to stream action heavy games with limited latency to remote users.


No connection no data

We are not a fully connected world so there are dead zones in data coverage that would not in any way benefit from a system like this. But with say a mobile phone the phone hardware and contacts could be stored on the device so it would still function as a phone when there was no data. The 80.7% of Americans that live in cities would not have much trouble with a system like this but to serve the other 19.3% might cost to much for the infrastructure to reach them.

Push back from hardware manufacturers

There is lots of money in selling a new piece of kit every 8 to 12 months to people for a premium price. It could possibly be tough to convince the hardware manufacturers that it would be worth it for them to support a system like this. There is probably a argument to be made for less R&D costs and hardware manufacturing they could significantly reduce their costs to make a device and make up some of the difference with reduced overhead.

More control in the hands of the data providers

A system like this would put more power in the hands of the providers. There is lots of potential for competition within a system like this. Smaller companies or organizations could create smaller localized infrastructures to handle their data processing which could use the providers to carry their data.

Closing thoughts

A system like this would not be without it’s flaws, least of which is giving more control to companies that in some places already have to much control. The potential for savings to people and the environment as well as a increase in usability of mobile devices could very well be worth the costs. There would also be ways to mitigate potential monopolies since at a very basic level a system like this could be compared to a very technical web host. Actual processing wouldn’t take any bandwidth and the streaming data would most likely be comparable to a Netflix stream. And really how cool would it be to be able to make use of a supercomputer from a flip phone while drinking coffee in a park.

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