Here Come the Cloud Computers

n810.gifAre we entering the golden era of handheld computing, with tablets connected to the Internet that make web services do the heavy lifting and let us leave our energy-guzzling, back-breaking notebooks at home?

Given some of the products being launched — or readied for launch — recently, we seem to be heading in that direction, moving one step further into the connected age. Nicholas Carr is also thinking along those lines, and sums it up best:

At this very moment, in a building somewhere in Silicon Valley, I guarantee you that a team of engineers from Google and Apple are designing a set of devices that, hooked up as terminals to Google’s “supercomputer,” will define how we use computers in the future.

Could the iPod Touch be that terminal? It’s only $299, and will only get cheaper as volumes ramp up or Apple (AAPL) introduces higher-end models.

Steve Jobs today said the company plans to release a software development kit next February that will allow third-party application developers to write apps for both the iPhone and the iPod Touch. The real reason: Apple, for all of its skills, needs the imagination of outside developers to turn the phone and music player into a viable platform.

While Apple puts together the front end of the integrated network-computing system, Google provides “the perfect back end”– the supercomputer that provides the bulk of the data-processing might and storage capacity for the devices.

For Google, the first step is the launch of the mobile version of Google Docs. Mobile GMail and GTalk are already quite popular, and one can expect the company to introduce more mobile-aware web services.

Apple isn’t the only friend Google has — the company is trying to build its own OS that will power devices made by companies such as HTC of Taiwan.
Some Asian manufacturers, meanwhile, are trying to build a platform that can pull web services off the network for basic [and potentially advanced] tasks by combining their own hardware, embedded Linux and a browser.

What will these services look like? IT/Redux has some ideas. Their vision consists of embedding Office 2.0 services right into a tablet format device. From that perspective, device that is most ready to challenge both Google and Apple is Nokia’s (NOK) N810 Internet Tablet, which was unveiled earlier today.

The new and improved device, which sports a QWERTY keyboard, is able to play host to a variety of web services, and it could become particularly useful as a computing adjunct if Nokia can make these services, and data, available in offline mode.

Nokia’s strategic mistake with the recently introduced N810 is lack of cellular/3G support — a key feature that would make this device a good option for non-Apple mobile carriers. At $479 per device, Nokia needs to get carriers to subsidize this device, playing perhaps on their fears of Apple and Google.

At the end of his post, Carr writes: “So how how long before the first Google-Apple Cloud Computer appears? I would say it’s months, not years.”

How does February 2008 sound?

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