NEAR-hysteria surrounded Amazon’s recent announcement of a Tablet PC called the Kindle Fire, but one of its most interesting features remained buried in the small print. Amazon would, they promised, back up all your data to “the cloud”.
Cloud computing is the new big thing for manufacturers: it means that instead of requiring you to store all your documents on your own hard drive, they do it for you, on a celestial cloud floating in cyberspace.
The cloud is actually a vast bank of computer servers in a warehouse somewhere, and though the terminology is new the concept is not. In fact, if you use a web-based email service like Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail, your data is already in a cloud. Your messages are not on your PC but on the company’s mainframe.
There are many advantages to this, but also an inherent danger. On the plus side, you can access your documents, messages, pictures and music from any of your computers and mobile devices. And you’re unlikely to encounter a “disk full” error.
But you should also be aware that you’re entrusting your valuable personal details to the care of someone you don’t know. What’s more, the small print in the contract quite likely gives that someone permission to do pretty much whatever he likes with it.
Which is where the Kindle Fire comes in. Amazon’s take on the iPad isn’t on sale in Britain yet but in the States it’s launching at less than half the price of Apple’s original. Partly that’s because it has a smaller screen, no camera and less memory – but it’s also because the purchase price may be worth less to Amazon than the onward marketing opportunity it represents.
When you surf the web on the Kindle Fire, you do so through Amazon’s cloud, which logs all your activity. It’s a priceless cache of information: akin to Tesco being given a list of everything you like doing so they can try to sell you stuff they think is relevant.
The jury is still out on whether the Kindle Fire is a valid alternative to the the iPad. (“It will be popular with parents who always buy the wrong thing,” was one American wag’s take on it.) Irrespective, the people staking most on its success are the money men who have set Big Brother up to watch you – from the comfort of a very large cloud.