To the cloud! Seriously, the cloud holds the answer

Jim BartholdA story line about connected devices and service providers ran through last week's CES with all the entertainment value of a quick set of rock-strewn rapids in an otherwise steady stream. There were more tablets than you'd find in an aspirin warehouse; connected TVs showcased the notion of connecting the Internet with a new consumer device with or without the consent of the service provider; and, of course, there was 4G which is better than 3G because it's faster and does more with the Internet.

Much of the show's ballyhoo was just that: ballyhoo and well wishes. Whatever the future holds, it probably won't be what most of the folks saw on the show floors in Las Vegas. Predicting the future, after all, is tough. A recent revisitation of the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner proves that point. According to the cult classic, in 2019 we'll have off-world colonies, super-human robots and flying cars. Of course we'll also have a building in futuristic L.A. with a flashing Pan Am sign, an indoors smoker who's not in a casino, and an array of tube TVs displayed in a store window. Obviously, predicting the future is tough.

One prediction last week seemed to ring truer than the rest: the use of the Internet "cloud," as a mislabeled repository of content and data to feed the tablets and connected TVs and 4G phones.

Connected devices are only as good as the network to which they connect and that network is only as good as the content it can access.

With the cloud "anything that can be turned into ones and zeros and be (can) available to users wherever they are," promised Lowell McAdam, Verizon's president-COO during a keynote address he shared with his boss, Ivan Seidenberg. "We already have the network intelligence and security built into our systems that can bring the vision of a one click world to life. We're still in the early innings of this revolution but we think that this will be a real paradigm shift in how content and services are delivered."

Toss aside the hyperbole (which you generally must do with a keynote) and you're left with this kernel of truth: Connected devices are only as good as the network to which they connect and that network is only as good as the content it can access.

The story that rings loud and clear at the start of this new year--aside from the ever-continuing hope that this lousy economy will one day recover enough so that people can start buying all these products and services again--is that the service provider that makes the deals with the product makers, then delivers the fattest pipe into the house must also own or have access to a vast repository of content.

Without a place to store that content and reliably deliver it to the network and then onto the device, those tablets and connected TVs and 4G phones will be nothing more than attractive conversation pieces and paperweights.