Android device makers chase Apple with cloud strategies

Acer and Lenovo lay out cloud strategies for their Android devices and Windows PCs at CES

The importance of bundling services and software with mobile devices is finally resonating with Android device makers as they compete with Apple, and some of them outlined their cloud strategies at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Acer and Lenovo, which make Android-based tablets and smartphones and Windows PCs, will offer cloud and hosting services that make it easier for people to synchronize and access content and documents across PCs, smartphones and tablets.

Acer will load its devices with AcerCloud, a hosting service on which users can push documents and files that can be shared across its tablets, smartphones and PCs. Lenovo provided some details about its upcoming cloud service, which will allow content and files on its TVs, tablets, smartphones and PCs to be accessed and shared through private or public clouds.

The companies are following a mobile device blueprint laid down by Apple, which wraps software and services with its wildly successful iPad and iPhone products. Apart from Amazon, Android device makers are mostly hardware makers and have so far struggled to offer a cohesive set of software and services to complement tablets and smartphones, analysts said.

Lenovo and Acer already provide a full range of hardware but lack the full range of applications and services for consumers, said technology industry analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights and Strategy.

"I expect they will fill in those gaps in the next 18 months through a combination of partnerships and in-house development," Moorhead said.

Personal cloud services like Apple's iCloud are also "stickies" that help retain customers when hardware sales are weak, Moorhead said. Building out monetizable personal cloud services are crucial to Lenovo's and Acer's future.

"Lenovo and Acer see this and recognize they must ramp up their capabilities," Moorhead said.

Though desirable, a cloud offering is not an absolute necessity for hardware vendors, especially given the cost and complexity of mounting such an operation and keeping it up and running, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"But with the right plan and investments and, perhaps, partners, it's possible for a vendor to use cloud services to its long-term advantage," King said.

Apple represents the lottery all vendors would love to win, but it may take a lot of effort for Android device makers to catch up, considering the fragmentation of the hardware and software community, King said.

"The characteristics that have helped drive Android community's massive success -- namely its sheer diversity and diffusion -- also means that few individual vendors have the size or scope to truly take on a homogenous entity like Apple," King said.

Differentiating cloud services is key for the Android community particularly because the hardware features tend to be common.

"Cloud services can provide new, ongoing revenue streams that are particularly attractive to vendors of devices with ever thinner profit margins," King said.

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