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The Cloud. Notice the capital ‘C’. It’s an entity, a buzzword, a misnomer, and of course, The Future (also capitalized for dramatic effect).

But for me the tipping point has hit, as I’m sure it has for a number of you, where – with only a handful of exceptions – if an app or service does not utilize the cloud I’m now generally considering it incomplete or inferior (consider this the “guilty before innocent” approach if you like).

I’m speaking specifically about the promise of ready access to your data, no matter where you are, coupled with the comfort of knowing that you don’t need to worry about losing said data – it’s replicated and highly available in mysterious and powerful data centers hidden around the world. <insert dramatic music here>

No longer do you need to experience the loss of your entire set of contacts because they lived only in your phone that you just dropped in the toilet. I still see the odd Facebook post from some people asking me to send them my contact information because they’ve recently lost all their contacts, and I wonder how they can still be allowing that to happen when it’s so unnecessary. They are much fewer and far between than even a year ago, however, so there’s hope for those poor saps yet.

But while contacts are certainly one of the more valuable sets of data to people, most everything is increasingly falling into the bucket of “information that should be readily available regardless of location, device, etc.”, including media, articles, preferences, etc.

Note that what I’m talking about doesn’t mean I need everything instantly available everywhere (reports of Apple’s iCloud experience freak me out a little – every blurry picture you take is immediately uploaded and available on your Apple devices everywhere?) – it simply means that the onus should no longer be on the user to have to copy files around and hope they haven’t forgotten or missed anything; synchronization should occur intelligently according to the type of data and the user’s need. Such an idea is seldom well-executed, which is why Dropbox’s implementation of a general purpose cloud storage application is such a hit. It just works, like you’d expect.

The most successful apps moving forward will provide a device- and location-agnostic experience, and that will and should be the norm. There are a plethora of examples already of opportunities lost, like why it’s taken so long for Microsoft to cloud-enable OneNote and their other Office products in general, but I do get the sense that in taking their time they have tried to get it right, and I’m hopeful that their SkyDrive & Office365 services deliver as promised. Still, too many applications, both traditional and the newer Apple style of “apps”, have a lot of work to do in this area.

Privacy is of course still a concern, but the value that these cloud-enabled apps can provide far outweigh the perceived risk…for consumers, at least for now. Enterprises have a much tougher job of reconciling the value against data security fears (which are completely legitimate), but I’m certain the majority of consumers don’t give too much pause to the relinquishing of control they’re unconsciously allowing to occur when it comes to privacy.

While this can and has led to some interesting/frightening stories in isolation, it won’t stem the tide of this trend and like iPads in the enterprise, it will influence organizations into consciously making the trade-offs while at the same time demanding more data security from the service providers.

I do believe that industry-strength data security will eventually become a differentiator for these services, but for now it’s taking a back seat to the convenience and ability NOT to lose your data that leads to a feeling I think of as “Cloud Comfort”.

The bottom line is that if you’re a user, start leveraging this trend and stop losing data and/or not having it when you most need it. This is a strategic advantage for you as a person – you can enrich your experiences and be more efficient in your business and personal life by doing so.

As a developer, enable your application to leverage the cloud…intelligently. Even if you’re writing a simple app, imagine how you might make it stickier, or improve your ability to monetize it, by adding value like the ability to store and sync preferences, data, favorites, whatever. Remember: Data Is King – it’s what drives the use of your application. I appreciate this makes things more complicated, but if you’re serious about building a business around your app or service, this is quickly becoming a necessity.

What I mean is that I see a device-agnostic model to offering services as an absolute necessity – to be legitimate you already need to address the Big 2, Apple and Android. Blackberry is still a serious nice-to-have, and I think Microsoft will play a much greater role moving forward, especially as desktops increasingly adopt the app store model. So to provide continuity of experience, that means sync’ing between devices.

It’s also a great way to avoid getting a 30% hit on your revenue compliments of Apple et al. It’s clear that people aren’t afraid to sign up for services and offer up their credit card over the web these days, so a valid model is to offer the app for free and retain all of the profits for yourself by allowing them to sign up for your service out of band or once you’ve got them hooked on your app/service (think Dropbox, Amazon, Evernote, XMarks, etc.). This is an experience I’m happy to participate in if it means I can use a service from various places and no matter what model your app adheres to re generating profits, you can provide a consistent buying opportunity, advertisement experience, etc. through this approach.

The best example of this that I’ve had recently is with Amazon’s Kindle app. It’s on my iPad, where I do most of my reading, but I’ve also installed it on my laptop and desktop computers because of some books I use for reference while I experiment with learning more about mobile app development. And if I’m ever able to give up my Blackberry for a Microsoft or Android smartphone, I’d expect it to be there too, working the same way and providing the same service to me regardless of where and on what device I’m using it.

When it’s executed properly it’s pretty darn sweet, and can benefit both the providers and consumers of an app/service. I can ignore all of my nagging data security questions for now (depending on the data this can be easier or more difficult), given the fact that I’m able to pull up the information I need wherever I am, and never lose it.

That is cloud comfort to me, and luckily we’re on our way to much more of it in the very near future.

Now if we could just solve all of those data security issues…

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