New iPad's Dueling Forces! The Cloud Revolution vs. HD Content

A few of my thoughts over the past 10 days with Apple's new iPad: Whoa, these photos look amazing! Holy cow, 4G LTE is unbelievably fast. This HBO Go stream looks perfect. So does this HD movie from iTunes. Wait, this thing's storage is halfway full already?

In general, these experiences fall into two trends: First, the rise of the cloud and fast mobile networks and second, the increasing quality and resolution of displays, photos and video.

And they don't always get along.

The most visible feature of the new iPad is, of course, its "retina" display. If you haven't seen one yet, check it out. It really makes photos and video pop in a way that you've never seen on a mobile device.

The problem with this is that it means you'll start to only want photos, games, apps, videos and movies that look great on this screen.

Meanwhile, what may quietly be the best capability of the new iPad is its blazing fast 4G LTE cellular Internet connection. I was initially skeptical that I'd even want LTE, but after reading the first reviews, I traded in my new Wi-Fi-only iPad for a Verizon LTE model. And, seriously, it is impossibly fast mobile Internet access.

This, combined with Apple's iCloud and iTunes services, suggest a future where it really is possible to stream anything, anywhere, anytime. Where every song, movie, photo, magazine, textbook, whatever in the world can be streamed to your device on-demand.

But then it starts to get complicated.

  • Fast cloud access suggests you might not need as much local storage because you're downloading everything off the web.
  • But the increased file sizes for the new "retina" graphics and HD videos mean running into your operator's bandwidth transfer limits rather quickly, and either stopping or paying more money for more bandwidth.
  • That, in turn, encourages you to download things to your iPad at home, storing them locally.
  • And that takes up a lot of space!

That's why, in addition to upgrading to an LTE iPad, I also traded up to 64 GB of storage from 32 GB. (And it's already half gone!) The iCloud era may be upon us, but that doesn't necessarily mean local storage is less important. If anything, these dueling forces seem to balance themselves out. And the result ends up with the consumer getting a better experience, but also spending more money on bandwidth and storage capacity.

One takeaway from this: As portability and fidelity continue to increase, there will be handsome rewards for the engineers and companies who can make these processes more efficient.

It'll also be interesting to see which tradeoff people choose, given the decision for one or the other: The highest-quality graphics and video, or spending less money on streaming bandwidth and storage?

So far, the call is for everyone to update their apps and media to the highest quality possible, so it looks amazing on "retina" displays. But if operators don't eventually make 4G access significantly less expensive, and if peoples' iPads start to fill up too quickly, there could also be demand for slimmed-down, lo-fi editions that claim fewer bytes.

Photo: UW Digital Collections via Flickr

Also: iCloud, Not the New iPad, is Apple's Real Key to the Post-PC Revolution