I’m waiting for my son to ask me, “Daddy, what are clouds made of?” just so I can answer, “Everyone’s photos, videos, music files and personal data.”
While I’ve covered the “cloud” in previous columns, I thought an update of where the tech currently is was in order, as well as a look at what retailers and consumers should know about where it’s headed.
Let’s just briefly define again what the cloud is for those of you who may still be busy figuring out social media marketing, Big Data mining and all the other media marketing methods that everyone is telling you you’ve got to get on board with.
Put simply, the cloud is online storage, or servers, you access via the Internet. These servers are used to store digital content—photos, videos, music, documents—as well as software applications. With the cloud, content is not stored on your computer’s hard drive but on the servers of a third party—companies like Google, Apple and Amazon.
Perhaps the example that will resonate best is Facebook. All of those photos, videos and pithy comments you’ve been uploading to FB via your smartphone or computer are hosted on the social network’s cloud—a huge data center that has no actual connection to your mobile device or PC. Okay, class dismissed.
The Cloud’s Changing Shapes
The easiest way for you to begin introducing the concept of the cloud to your customers, and to begin profiting from it without getting involved in complicated service offerings, is to begin selling some of the new storage products that essentially mimic the cloud. After all, helping your customers take better care of their photos and videos makes solid business sense—if you want them coming to you for high-margin photo merchandise in the years ahead.
SanDisk introduced a pair of new portable storage devices that serve as something of a makeshift cloud for those who don’t want to pay the monthly fee associated with a true cloud service. They both allow users to offload their digital files from tablets and smartphones wirelessly and also stream content to portable devices, turning them into tiny media servers that can be brought along wherever they go.
The SanDisk Connect wireless flash drive ($50, 16GB; $60, 32GB) connects up to eight mobile devices (Android, Kindle Fire or Apple) at once to move files between them. Basically, users download a free app to their device, pair with the flash drive and then they’re free to upload content (videos, photos, music, etc.) to the drive. Since the connection is strictly between the drive and the device, there’s no need for an Internet connection.
The company also offers the SanDisk Connect wireless media drive, which functions much the same as the flash drive only it’s available in higher capacities (32GB and 64GB), offers an SDXC card slot for transferring files from a digital camera and can stream five different devices at once. The media drive sells for $80 for the 32GB version and $100 for the 64GB model.
Western Digital recently announced a piece of software dubbed WD SmartWare Pro ($20) that lets folks manage both their external hard drives and a Dropbox Cloud storage account in one simple interface. Using the software, the user can schedule file backups to external drives (including network drives) or to a Dropbox account. SmartWare works with any brand of external hard drive, but as of now, Dropbox is the only cloud storage service supported.
Your customers can configure the software to either backup their files at set times or on a continuous basis so that new files or changes to existing files are securely, instantly saved to their drive or Dropbox. The software also allows them to backup files stored on Dropbox to an external drive (if they’re ultra-paranoid).
SmartWare does more than secure photo and video files (or any other digital document). It also preserves up to 25 older versions of that file in case the user makes changes they later want to undo.
Sony is also getting in on this segment, with its WG-C10 portable wireless server ($90), which provides options for storing and sharing content at home or on the road. The lightweight device also serves as a battery charger, card reader/writer and added storage, giving users more control when managing their photos, videos, music and documents while traveling.
The WG-C10 connects several devices via Wi-Fi at one time, allowing eight users to simultaneously share and playback content on their smartphones, tablets or PCs. When using the server, there’s no need to be in range of a public Wi-Fi network to transfer photos wirelessly between devices with built-in Wi-Fi.
Sony’s device also allows consumers to send photos from a camera’s memory card for upload via a smartphone to social networks. Or, they can slip in a memory card and wirelessly stream photos and videos via Wi-Fi for play back on a smartphone or tablet. To further enhance sharing camera, camcorder and PC files, the WG-C10 includes slots for SD cards, Memory Stick Duo and USB flash drives.
Help Consumers Help You
The real key here is not only in introducing your customers to what is likely going to be an important technology/service in the cloud, but to also get them used to better organizing and more securely saving their digital memories so you can profit when they ultimately want to turn these memories into more lasting, tangible and actionable items.
Consumers have largely lost control of their image and video collections, and any product that comes to market from this point forward that helps them gain better control of their memories and makes it easier to share and/or retrieve said files is worth taking a closer look at. It’s great to see SanDisk, WD and Sony moving in this direction, and you can safely assume the other storage companies will soon be following suit.