Mobile Apps, Clouds and Cloud Bursts

Many of my developer friends like to tell me, “The web is dead.  Long live mobile!” My apologies to them and the subscribers over on BuildMobile…but not so fast, my friends!

I wholeheartedly agree there are tremendous opportunities in the mobile app market.  Heck, I love an angry bird as much as the next guy, but mobile apps alone (those limited in functionality to the mobile phone or tablet) are nothing more than productivity enablers.  They help when we’re untethered from our computers to track expenses, take notes, play games, etc.  Just like spreadsheet programs and word processing programs on early-generation PC’s allowed us to be productive when we were un-cabled from the mainframe, mobile apps give us the benefit of being productive when we’re on the road and isolated from the web.

But seriously, that limited definition of a mobile app—that being an app with functionality constrained to a single platform, cell phone or tablet—has long been altered by most of us. I’m sure there are some holdouts that disagree and I’ll hear from both of those Palm developers still out there. Just kidding! I can still crank out COBOL and Assembler code too.  But why would I?

Mobile Apps in the Cloud

My point is mobile apps and devices are a critical component in the cloud solution ecosystem. Without the cloud, mobile apps are one-dimensional.  Without mobile apps, the cloud is limited in its dimensions. Together, cloud solutions are multi-dimensional and allow users to access data while in the office, on the road or at home from any device. Just as I would not build a cloud solution without including mobile platforms, neither would I build a mobile app without planning for additional functionality in the cloud.

Given that the cloud will penetrate further into our lives through the use of mobile apps and devices, social networking features will be the glue binding us to the cloud. Whether bringing teams together in a work environment or friends together for fun, social networking is the incentive that drives usage. But the cloud will not just bind us virtually.  It will also drive where we physically utilize and enjoy our experience.

Cloud Bursts

Businesses that traditionally have customer relationships through their bricks and mortar outlets will not idly sit back letting Apple and Google drive all business strategy in the cloud.  They’ll stake a piece of the cloud for their own. Traditional businesses have the one thing that Google and Apple are missing for now—the physical touchpoint.

Rather than simply connecting people virtually, what if the cloud could connect people physically and reward them for getting together? Imagine a game that tracks players and their locations—simple enough and in widespread use today.  What if the game could draw those players together and reward them for playing the game in the same physical location.  For example, the game would reward players who get together in the real world with a strength bonus or additional health.  Bringing more players together boosts your strength bonus.

If nobody has yet claimed the term, I’ll call those social networks that connect us physically in the real world, “cloud bursts.” These include friend-connecting applications and other social support applications. .  Cloud -driven communities benefitting others when they come together physically.

I’m in the minority but I’m not a big fan of role-playing games, at least those with wizards or dragons and the like, but I remember in college watching several groups of students playing Dungeons and Dragons. I’d hear them band together to cast a spell and overpower some enemy. Note that these were usually the same students in my computer science classes cruising through class with “A’s” while I often struggled to earn a “C”.

Now imagine porting that game to mobile devices and the cloud.  The mobile device tracks and reports your location to an application in the cloud.  Players are rewarded for banding together in their game quest through the virtual dark forest as they physically sit together playing in one location—forming a cloud burst. The player’s game experience improves since they join other like-minded players socially.

Cloud Burst Opportunities

My previous blog post gave me a chance to promote the cloud as a channel for new business opportunities.  Social networking games present many of those opportunities immediately. While the games may be fun, think of the commercial opportunities they present for the gaming industry through the use of creative marketing. Retailers already have major loyalty programs.  Enhance those same loyalty programs with additional rewards earned through sponsored gaming.

How about this scenario? I’m a game application vendor with a game rewarding players for joining together in a cloud burst to play the game.  More players brought together in a cloud burst enhances each unit’s firepower or accuracy.

Given that they registered their profiles when they subscribed to the game and I was able to ask them questions that game sponsors would want to know, I could learn a lot about their preferences in many areas of their life. I know their favorite drinks so I partner with a coffee chain, fast food restaurant or soft drink company to reward purchases of their products with bonus points or special health points specifically for the game and for a limited time. For example, the BFG-6000 can only be purchased at McDonald’s and is only good for 24 hours requiring me to reload daily at McDonalds.

The same sponsor could establish specific hours when the game could be played in the store and reward players for bringing their teams together in a cloud burst in the sponsor’s store. Incentives go up based on more sales activity in the store. In addition to the increased sales, sponsors could also drive more business to normally slow business hours.  Rewards and incentives reward player behavior for purchases made during the normally slow afternoon or after-dinner evening hours.

As the game vendor, I’d make more money giving the game away to players and selling these features to sponsors. I’d rather take a cut of every drink purchased by all players over the course of a months-long game than simply sell the game for a one-time fee. Think of the additional marketing analytic services you could provide the retail industry by showing actual customer behavior against various marketing campaigns enabled by your game.

Product Integration Opportunities

Player behavior in the store isn’t the only metric that can determine cloud success. Physical products can be manufactured that interact with game play. Tethering game tokens, toys and novelty items to the cloud app through the use of RFID or other interfaces could reward the purchase and usage of the product.  Introducing cloud-aware game accessories to the user experience would drive retail sales even higher.

The opportunities for rewarding cloud bursts are endless. Cloud solution developers should find ways to integrate social networking into their apps and identify potential partners who could benefit from cloud bursts. Partnering with sponsors could be the critical source of initial funding needed to bring a good app to the market. Once introduced, the app can be replicated and customized for other sponsors and uses.

Are you integrating social networking features into your cloud solution?

If you’re developing cloud applications and would like to discuss how your app can utilize  cloud bursts, please contact me.  I’d like to share our discussion with the readers of this blog.

On the other hand, if you’re a traditional merchant searching for ways to increase sales and build closer relationships to your customers, please contact me to discuss ways cloud bursts can bring you closer to your customers.  I’d like to share our discussion with readers of this blog and gain feedback from the community.

Image via Mayovskyy Andrew / Shutterstock

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