Lenovo's Reach cloud service aims to replace local apps

After a closed beta, the cloud desktop service that lets users launch apps without downloading them on mobile devices or PCs is now open for public preview

After a closed beta for a few months, Lenovo has opened for public preview its Reach consumer cloud service, which is a "cloud desktop" service through which applications can be launched without downloading and installing them locally on mobile devices and PCs.

Users can sign up for the service at Lenovo's Reach website or through a Reach application for mobile devices. The service functions almost like a virtual desktop but is geared for the cloud, with Web services like Netflix and Hulu Plus running through a hosted interface.

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An "Application Selector" in Reach allows users to select relevant Web services or applications, which are then added to a tiled user interface. Initially Lenovo is offering access to only the most popular Web services through Reach, which will also store passwords for the Web services.

For example, clicking on a Netflix tile in Reach provides access to a browser-based HTML5 version of the video streaming service. Users will be able watch a movie through that version of the Netflix service, and the quality of video streaming should be similar to a locally installed app, Lenovo said.

"You can create an experience once and access it from any device," said Bryan Thomas, director of software marketing at Lenovo.

Lenovo wanted to offer more than just a file and multimedia syncing service, and Reach provides convenient access to applications in a single interface across devices and operating systems, Thomas said.

Reach adapts applications to the screen size of the device on which they're being run. The cloud service also supports Flash applications, and Thomas said more applications and streaming services will be added in the future.

The cloud service comes with 5GB of free hosted storage provided by SugarSync. In the future Lenovo wants to aggregate hosted services like Microsoft's SkyDrive and Google Drive through a feature called Cloud File Explorer. It will be available next year and will mean users won't have to remember where files are if they use multiple storage services, Thomas said.

Future goals for Reach also include the ability to read files stored in the cloud via Zoho so productivity applications don't need to be installed locally. Lenovo is also planning Web-based multimedia streaming services.

Reach is available for download on Android, and an iOS version of the app for Apple's iPads and iPhones is in the approval process, Thomas said. The service is also available for Windows.

For now Reach works across platforms, but in the future some parts of Reach could be tuned to work uniquely with homegrown devices, Thomas said

"We see this as an opportunity to potentially differentiate," Thomas said, adding that the service could sway buyers to buy Lenovo products when upgrading.

Cloud services are an important ingredient with hardware, and that has helped device makers like Google, Apple and Amazon sell more mobile devices. Lenovo already offers a cloud service for its enterprise products, but Reach is targeted at consumers. Windows and Android device makers like Acer and Asus have added cloud services that uniquely work with their mobile devices and PCs.

The service is initially available in the U.S. and Canada, and will be expanded to other countries at a later date.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com.

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