Over the past few years the amount of media storage in our homes and portable devices has become less and less important. This is particularly interesting because storage, hard drives and flash memory, has also become much more affordable. When the first iPod came out people wondered how they would ever fill the 5 GB hard drive.
Despite storage being relatively cheap—I can get a 32 GB memory card for $25—storage doesn’t matter much anymore. This point was driven home when the new iPad was introduced with exactly the same memory capacity as the old iPad. Upping the entry level model to 32 GB from 16 GB couldn’t add cost to it, but Apple determined that change wasn’t necessary on iPad 2.5.
Why? Because, of course, we don’t want to own content anymore. Well, maybe that’s not strictly true, but market and distribution changes have made owning content unnecessary for many people. Ask any of your friends what they use mostly for music, and you’ll likely find that it’s some streaming service, probably Pandora, but Rhapsody, Spotify, MOG, Slacker and others also have decent followings. Subscription-based streaming services like Spotify and Rhapsody do a pretty good job of emulating the ownership experience without making you go to the trouble or ripping discs, fixing metadata mistakes and syncing your device with iTunes. If all you have to do is log onto your account, ownership is irrelevant.
The video world, while a little different than the online music world, is catching up. Streaming or downloading is fast pushing out disc ownership. If you want the latest releases, you can probably get them from your cable company’s video-on-demand offerings or Vudu. Netflix and Amazon are killing the TV show box set business. UltraViolet, while currently a cluster bomb, is also trying to move us to cloud collection models.
Already online video viewing is beating traditional disc viewing. Undoubtedly, the crumbling of disc rental stores is both a cause and effect.
But what happens if all your content (both the content you own and the content you just borrow) comes from the cloud? Is there a danger to floating all your media and account info to the sky?
Clouds get busted. Clouds get hacked. Clouds aren’t secure or permanent. If an organization of high-school kids can hack into major banks and the Pentagon, then who’s to say that your iTunes or Amazon or UltraViolet cloud account is safe.
If there’s money to be stolen or a political (or other) point to be made, cloud services will be hacked. Could a cloud service like Amazon’s or iCloud also be a backdoor way into the places those companies keep your account information? Could they be backdoors into the places where those companies keep valuable intellectual property?
Which bring me to another worry: sure, if there are no discs, then no one’s going to steal them, right? Stores like Game Stop go to great lengths to keep people from shoplifting video games. Can streaming sites or cloud lockers be vulnerable to the same kind of theft? Who’s responsible if your iCloud library gets hacked and suddenly shows up on a pirate cloud?
By now you probably think I’m wearing a tinfoil cap, and to be honest, I’m not as worried as all this seems, but security is something we need to take seriously because as we get more comfortable handing all our content over to cloud services, what’s next? Home control and home security? It’s only a small matter to have someone break into your music cloud and copy your X Ray Spex collection, but another thing completely when they get the access code to your front door, the password to your bank account and control of your surveillance cameras. Feel paranoid yet?
And I haven’t even gotten to the quality sacrifices we’re making.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had audio training from Home Acoustics Alliance and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.