CES 2012: Cloud-Made Handcuffs

In the past, carriers and Internet service providers had multiple tools to ensure that I remained a loyal citizen of their domain. In the early days of the Internet, the easiest way to get an email address was from my service provider, and once I began to use and distribute this email address, the thought of moving to an alternative broadband provider was delayed by the thought of how painful it would be to switch my email address.

On the mobile side, my wireless provider held the ultimate high ground, owning my cell phone number. Any switch in allegiance meant revoking my right to the number and beginning all over again. And while we all did occasionally switch, the move was hardly ever the result of a spur-of-the-moment decision. When data came along, the mobile carriers also offered email addresses in another bid to cement the relationship. Of course, both the email address and the phone number are now independent entities: we have alternative email options, such as Gmail, and the ability to port our numbers from carrier to carrier.

The latest approach to encourage loyalty is the cloud. Carriers offer cloud space to ensure that your smartphone device is automatically backing up to a safe zone. Those photos, no longer just trivial snaps, but now your core photographic album of events, can be safely stored with the carrier, as can your contacts and other content. Connected device OEMs are also throwing in some cloud access, with everyone from Apple and Microsoft to much smaller OEMs, all talking up the cloud.

But just as the email address and the phone number were retention tools, so too is the cloud. Once a consumer’s content is in said cloud, the move to switch from one to another becomes a matter of pain and effort. However, the cloud strategy goes beyond the old plan of retention alone, but can factor into encouraging consumers to remain brand-loyal as they consider additional purchases. After all, if the content is held in one cloud, the goal is to access that content from all devices, rather than having different devices pointing to different clouds.

And so, it is no surprise that a big theme at CES this year is the cloud. While last year was all about the tablet, this year focuses on what to do with tablet content – and how to expand the sphere of influence further. While the cloud itself may be an amorphous service concept, rather than a consumer electronic product per se, the goal is clear: hold onto the consumer’s content and you can build a CE ecosystem around it.