Since the birth of the smartphone, device manufacturers have been preoccupied with offering consumers more device storage. Over the years we have seen devices move from virtually zero storage capacity, to offering 16GB, 32GB, all the way up to 1 Terrabyte of device storage on the latest Samsung Galaxy Note. This is all to accommodate growing volumes of data creation, video, social media, etc., which have resulted in the need to store more content.
However, the way we consume and create content has evolved and changed dramatically in recent years. Today, there is an expectation that users should be able to consume content anywhere, at any time. The rise of on-demand services – from Netflix to Uber, to Twitter is a clear indication of this growing demand. This content accessibility will become all the more important with the rise of connected things and IoT devices. While the devices we’ll want to access our content on in the future have probably not even have been invented yet, the point remains the same: we want easier access to pictures, video and content, anytime and anywhere. Furthmore consumers will expect their content to follow them whereever they go, and be accessible on any device they have.
This shifting consumer expectation is already having an impact on device storage. Social trends such as Snapchat and Instagram have served to create an instantaneous upload process, meaning the need to locally save files is no longer what it was. But it is the proliferation of the cloud, combined with new technologies such as 5G that will bring significantly lower latencies, that will eradicate the reliance on local storage.
In the new world where content can be stored in a multitude of ways, away from the device, the death of device storage will bring new implications for mobile operators. Those who are prepared to leverage the cloud to meet evolving expectations will find themselves in the strongest position.
Beginning of the end with 5G
The promise of 5G is that it will bring with it greater bandwidth and significantly reduced latency – which will dramatically reduce the need for storage capabilities. Just as the trend to store music files locally has largely disappeared thanks to Spotify, Tide and Apple Music, so too will that of storing images or video files on the device. Even as we see files become larger and heavier, increased bandwidth and reduced latency will make it easier for them to be offloaded and downloaded to and from the cloud anytime, anywhere, enhancing user accessibility. In addition to this, 5G will see less pressure placed on devices, as it will allow cloud providers to offer dynamic services that can move local files from the device to the cloud according to the space available. When users can start their favorite movie just as quickly from the cloud (via 5G) as they can a MP3 today, why invest more in local device storage?
Indeed, the arrival of 5G will drastically change how device manufacturers and consumers view smartphone devices, tablets, and even laptops and TVs. Moving away from the perception that the device holds the content, we will see mobile edge computing do the heavy lifting, turning devices into mere screens and acting as one of many gateways to our content – all accessed from the cloud.
This trend will be particularly intersting in the gaming industry. The notion of “always-on gaming”, whereby players can enjoy a persistent universe which continues to exist and develop, even when there are no players (or devices) interacting within it, is becoming increasingly popular. 5G will only amplify the possibility for users to access their virtual world anytime, anywhere, on any device, thus completely removing the need for local device storage (and much of the compute). Today video games such as Fortnite provide a glimpse into the future, allowing my daughter and ninety-nine of her closest friends to play together across mobile, desktop and console. We could even see game consoles replaced by on-device applications – following the hugely successful launch of Fortnite Mobile – allowing users to access their virtual worlds in the cloud, on-demand, wherever they may be with whatever device happens to be in their hands.
Smile for the camera
But 5G isn’t the only factor that will increase our reliance on the cloud. The way we create and use content is also heralding a new dawn for the cloud. Smart services such as Google Instant Apps, iOS offload, and Amazon photos are already taking advantage of cloud technology to offer users more flexibility in the type of content they want on their device all of the time, versus the content that can be stored in the cloud. As long as it’s available – we, the consumer, don’t care where it is stored.
Our usage of social media apps such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram have seen a rise in instant uploads as content is saved directly in the application. This lowers the pressure on the device to have storage as all the files are stored within the application’s server. What’s more, the instant nature of these applications has seen the type of content we put out change, in that there is less impetus to want or need to save every single piece of content we share on social media. Videos, films, and clips are no longer all stored on a device, accessible solely via that very device. Thanks to the cloud, today’s users can access the same content, and have the same experience, regardless of the device being used or the location. Videos, music, and photos will no longer be stored solely on a device, trapped in one piece of hardware and accessible only to a single user.
Time’s up for device storage?
Cloud technology isn’t new, but by combining it with the new capabilities brought about by 5G, our ability to upload and download content will be made easier and faster. The cloud will no longer be a distant “thing”, it’ll be right there in your pocket, your bag, or on your living room table, accessible via your device screen. It is this convenience, enabled and powered by 5G and driven by changing consumer trends, which brings into question the value and need for device storage. There’s no doubt that the gigabytes that were once an important feature of new devices are now fading into the background.
The 5G smartphones of tomorrow with their enhanced bandwidth and significantly reduced latency will enable operators and application providers to offer underpinning cloud services that fulfil the expectations of today’s connected consumer. If they don’t, users will struggle to do what they want most: consume, view, and access their prized content from any location on any device.