Cloud services that don't meet these customer expectations will fail

As we have evolved from packaged-software users to cloud consumers, our expectations have changed. Software providers need to take this into account if they're going to succeed in this arena.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

I used bad words again this weekend. Like I do every day, I moved between my four main computers. It's not important why I have four main computers, I just do. It works for me.

I also have two smartphones (one that still gets phone service), three tablets, and a Chromebook. Those are just the devices I'm likely to use every day or so. I also have a whole raft of machines designated for special purposes, like the studio Mac and the network-monitor Mac.

We no longer live in a one-desktop, one-user world. Back in the early days of Microsoft, that was Bill Gates' goal: every person should have a computer. Today, of course, we all have a lot more devices, even if only because we semi-retire older generation devices in favor of the hot new hotness.

A key reason this has all become so practical is because of the cloud. It doesn't matter what computer you're on to access your Dropbox. It's just there. It doesn't matter what tablet you're on to access your Gmail. It's just there. It doesn't matter what phone you're on to access an important Evernote document. It's just there.

To consumers, the cloud means one key thing: it's just there.

The cloud removes friction. It removes the hassle of figuring out how to keep things in sync. It eliminates the problem of figuring out how to share something with someone else.

It removes the hassle of checking for and installing updates. Updates just happen (whether you want that new interface or not). For the most part, the cloud even removes the hassle of figuring out where your data is stored and how to make sure you don't lose it.

This is why products like the Chromebook are possible.

Of course, there's no doubt the cloud isn't as perfect as our expectations. There have been outages from even the most reliable companies and breaches of some of our most trusted brands.

But that's not the point. Everything in tech is always a work in progress. What's important is what customers have come to expect from cloud providers and -- by extension -- hassles they will no longer tolerate.

My profanity continued this weekend because Adobe Creative Cloud did not meet my internal representation of what a cloud product should be like. I expect my cloud products to be like Dropbox, Evernote, Pocket, and Gmail: Flexible, reliable, and hassle-free.

As I discussed last week, Creative Cloud gets in the way with licensing. I had to disable, deactivate, and decommission, and re-enable, reactivate, and recommission Photoshop a whole bunch of times. It got old. That's because Adobe didn't live up to expectations for a cloud product.

Consumer cloud expectations

So, in a nutshell, what are those expectations? Let's go down the list:

  • Some cloud services are free, but we expect premium upgrades.
  • If paid services are involved, we expect to easily and smoothly add or remove services merely with a mouse-click and a credit card.
  • As soon as a service plan's capacity is reached (or just before), we expect the service to offer us an upgrade, not require us to go hunting to make things work.
  • We also expect fees to be tiered, so that each new tier provides more value than the last, with an incremental fee or jump.
  • Fees are usually all-you-can-eat for a year or smoothly scalable as soon as more capacity is needed. We upgraded my wife's Google Drive capacity the other day because she exceeded her base Gmail size. One click, $24, and she won't have to worry about it for at least a year.
  • We expect to be able to use the service on any compatible machine. If I have Cloud Photoshop, I expect to use it wherever I'm logged in.
  • And we generally expect the service to work on pretty much anything (with the possible exception of Windows Phone).
  • We expect all our service-related data to just be there, wherever we are. How that happens is not our problem.
  • Installation is a click or a login. That's it. It's just there. There are no longer installers, updaters, zip files or other things to download and run on the desktop. Just click and run.

When it comes to the cloud, we're giving up some control in return for convenience, reduced friction, and presumably increased reliability.

As consumers, we're learning to be willing to pay subscription-like fees in return for the use of services, rather than one-time fees for ownership of a set of disks.

But in return for participating in the subscription model, we have expectations that need to be met. Sure, I could buy a second Creative Cloud license, but I'm not using more of their resources, I'm using more computers. Other cloud providers don't ding you for a reasonable number of devices. They ding you as you use more capacity.

But the bigger reason I'm not buying another Creative Cloud license is that I can't share the data between the licenses unless I go to their team system, and I can't upgrade my current plan to team. Can you see how the whole frictionless expectation for cloud apps is breaking down here?

So I'll buy some cheap Photoshop replacement clone for the one machine I use least. I'll probably buy it off the app store so I can use it on any of my machines. And Adobe will lose the opportunity to get me to a new tier.

So what's the other prime characteristic of cloud services for consumers? They need to be as frictionless as possible.

If you're offering a cloud service, make it just be there, make it frictionless, anticipate when consumers will need an upgrade and present that in as close to one-click as possible.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Editorial standards