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It’s nearly impossible to stand out in the smartphone market through hardware alone. The history of smartphones is filled with models that didn’t take off or didn’t do enough to stand out from the crowd — Amazon’s Fire Phone and the HTC First being some of the more recent examples.

Of course, the battle for unique identity and the sales that go with it doesn’t just apply to the smartphone market — that’s why makers of cars, thermostats, and just about every other device are adding “smarts” to their products to differentiate them from the pack.

This phenomenon highlights what’s becoming a clearer reality in today’s world. In order to survive, the smartphone will have to become more than the rectangle device that people hold in their hands — it will have to shed its physical form and become the cloud.

Software + Services + Hardware — The Winning Formula

During his F8 conference keynote speech where he discussed new technology for smartphones, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “We aren’t using primitive tools because we prefer primitive tools. We are using primitive tools because we are still early in the journey in developing better tools.” Smartphones have amazing potential in ways we haven’t even dreamed about yet. For now, we’re still dealing with technological limitations – especially hardware limitations.  As apps continue to get more powerful, they’ll also cost a smartphone more resources, like battery and data; according to researchers with Duke, UCLA and other organizations, the battery remains the primary bottleneck for mobile devices.

To overcome these constraints, we need to take a holistic approach to technology. Add software and services to the equation — because software coupled with hardware will beat hardware alone every time. Software works around the battery bottleneck because software doesn’t have the physical limitations of hardware.

Why have hardware do the task alone, when it can team up with software and services to do the job easier and better? Think of how cars have developed over the years — from diesel to unleaded gasoline to electricity, we’ve refined the fuel that goes in the car, not the car itself. A car still has four wheels, an engine and a steering wheel. A smartphone’s hardware is the car itself — you can’t reinvent the wheel, and you can’t realistically expand what a smartphone is either. Software is the destination, where you want to take the car. What we need to change is the fuel — in this case, the processing. Processing on the phone itself is diesel — cloud processing is nitro-boosted gasoline.

The Power of Many Outperforms the Power of One

No matter how great a phone is, it’s still a single processor, and limited by what one processor can do. Having an entire server room at your beck and call is far better.

The challenge with mobile computing has always been the tradeoff between portability and power. Because it’s hard to fit a server room in your pocket, users have foregone additional processing power to take their computing on the go. But with cloud processing, that tradeoff can finally be part of the smartphone’s history. Cloud processing acts as a direct link between your phones and the server room. Your phone is no longer just your smartphone: it’s also the server room and the cloud connection binding them together. That’s hardware plus software plus services in action, effectively transforming a smartphone into the cloud.

One of the primary benefits of this will be speed. A room of servers is going to be able to handle information much quicker than a single processor. Browsing speed benchmarks have been an often-used comparison into the processing capabilities of these programs, and they show the difference cloud processing makes. In the widely-cited JetStream benchmark, cloud processing scored a 210, while processing through the smartphone itself scored at most a 63. This also shows why more emphasis should be given to software and services rather than hardware — the physical phone itself made little difference.

Researchers with the University of Malaysia have concluded that cloud computing leads to “explicit resource saving” by speeding up the execution of apps and services with no loss of quality — particularly saving local CPU use and battery and data consumption. For example, a combination of cloud computing technology and JavaScript can be used to preprocess and compress web pages, achieving both faster loading times and browsing that can save up to 90 percent of a smartphone’s data bandwidth. The only processing happening on a user’s smartphone is limited — most of the action is happening on separate cloud servers, so it wouldn’t be charged to a user’s data plan.

In addition, cloud processing holds great benefits for a smartphone’s security. By connecting to the internet through cloud processing, a user is effectively kept at arm’s distance from hackers and internet-based threats. Even if attackers manage to breach a connection (which for maximum security, should be encrypted), they will be accessing the cloud servers, not the personal device of a user. If these cloud servers are used for only processing and not to store data, attackers will be left disappointed by only being able to reach servers with no data to mine.

Migrating to the Solution

Taking a smartphone’s processing to the cloud isn’t a drastic step, and is something we can implement right now.

We’ve already started the process: Facebook, Google Drive, Salesforce and Microsoft Office 365 are just some examples of cloud services that we use every day. You effectively take the philosophy and function that fuels Software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms, and you apply it to every aspect of what a phone does — Browsing-as-a-service, Gaming-as-a-service, and so on. The time to begin these transitions is now. It may seem like the heir apparent to smartphones is a long way off, but if smartphones don’t begin their transcendence to the cloud soon, they’ll be left behind when the next hardware device comes to replace it, whatever that may be.

History is littered with devices that came and went, replaced by the next gadget. This is what awaits smartphones if they remain a pure hardware device. This is why the computer had such an impact — it became the network and grew to have an impact beyond its CPU, monitor, mouse and keyboard. It represented connection and engagement like the world had never seen before. The smartphone must now mirror it by becoming the cloud to reach faster functionality. By connecting everyday products, we will be in the age of devices made by people who understand that hardware, software and services in one package make up the winning formula. Smartphones must embrace this concept too, and the cloud will be the way to do that.

Dr. Shioupyn Shen is the founder and CEO of CloudMosa, Inc., creator of the Puffin Brower – the only mobile browser to run exclusively on the cloud. Prior to founding CloudMosa in 2009, he worked as a software engineer at Google from 2002 to 2009 and Microsoft from 1994 to 2000. With an extensive background in computer science and electrical engineering, Shen holds a doctorate degree from University of California Los Angeles, two master’s degrees from University of Wisconsin-Madison and a bachelor’s degree from National Taiwan University. He is a disruptive innovator and specializes in moonshot projects.

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