Beware the fool's gold in the heated mobile and cloud predictions

Cloud computing and mobile apps are attracting buckets of money, say the analysts -- but something doesn't add up

The two pillars of the so-called post-PC revolution -- cloud computing and mobile apps -- are at first blush an odd pair: one dull, one cool; one focused on the enterprise, another on the consumer. But according to recent reports by the market research mavens at Gartner, both are red hot.

On the most superficial level, Gartner's predictions are a pointer for where to go if you're looking for work or investment opportunities, or if you're wondering what your CIO is going to throw at you next. They also underscore the continuing shift in the technology industry away from the bread-and-butter staples of the desktop and the big enterprise application deployments to a world in which computing occurs on devices you always have with you and are always connected to resources in the cloud. (That's why the two technologies actually make sense as a couple.)

[ Also on Developers who think the Amazon Appstore will be a welcome alternative to the Android Market should read the fine print. | Get the no-nonsense explanations and advice you need to take real advantage of cloud computing in InfoWorld editors' 21-page Cloud Computing Deep Dive PDF special report. ]

But the Gartner predictions give me pause, and they should concern IT, users, and investors alike -- blindly accepting them could send you on a chase for a mirage. Remember that tech prognostication can be much less of a science than researchers would like us to believe. However, don't interpret this as a cheap shot at Gartner. I respect its work and its integrity -- along with that of other major research shops -- but I've seen too many charts that look like hockey sticks to believe everything I read about tech's future.

For example, although I certainly agree that the mobile apps business has been wildly successful, I find it impossible not to question the bullish assumptions implicit in Gartner's forecast. As to Gartner's enthusiastic view on cloud computing, I don't question the trend, but it's hard not to notice that other analysts believe that server virtualization, the close cousin of cloud computing, is stalled. Can both be true?

App feeding frenzy unabated -- but where's the cash?
According to Gartner, app store revenue will nearly triple this year to $15.1 billion, from $5.2 billion in 2010. The river of cash will come from 18 billion downloads of smartphone and tablet applications sold at Apple's App Store, Google's Android Market, Nokia's Ovi Store, RIM's BlackBerry App World, and Microsoft Marketplace.

Not surprisingly, Apple dominated the field last year; Gartner analysts Stephanie Baghdassarian and Carolina Milanesi estimated that Apple drove 90 percent of app downloads in 2010. Apple, which last week crowed about its App Store hitting its 10 billionth download, will maintain its lead for the next few years at least, but it will narrow as other stores mature, they said.

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