Apple iPad, other tablets seen driving SaaS, cloud storage

Lack of internal storage will push users to online backup, synchronization services

The rapid spread of tablet devices like the Apple iPad could prove to be a boon to providers of online storage services as users seek ubiquitous data access and synchronization across multiple mobile platforms for devices that don't have much internal storage capacity.

The flexibility that comes with cloud storage "is not just a nice thing to have but a necessity when you're dealing with storage-limited devices," said Avi Greengart, a consumer devices analyst at research firm Current Analysis in Sterling, Va. "If you have a device based on flash memory, you don't want to sync everything."

Most of the mobile tablet devices today use NAND flash technology to offer limited memory capacity, typically 64GB or less.

For example, iPads are available with 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB flash drives. And Hewlett-Packard Co. this week disclosed that its upcoming Slate tablet computers will be available later this year with either 32GB or 64GB flash drives.

Greengart said that he expects that future tablet computers are also unlikely to offer the high storage capacities available in netbook and desktop computers, since they will be built more to consume data than to create it.

Tablet users can choose from several providers of cloud-based storage, including, Live Mesh, JungleDisk, DropBox and SkyDrive. In addition to offering online storage services, some of those vendors let users synchronize folders and files between multiple devices.

Adam Couture, an analyst at Gartner Inc., agreed that growing use of tablet devices could lead to significant growth of the storage services market.

"These services to date have been used by people with notebook computers and PCs that [also] have hefty hard drives," Couture said. Cloud products could become the primary storage option for users of tablet devices, he added.

"Even to use the apps on a BlackBerry, you've got to buy incremental memory. Wouldn't it be nice instead of doing that if you could use some drive in the sky for incremental memory? I can see the world going there," Couture said.

Cloud-based storage services "have been there for a very long time, but the introduction of the iPad is making everything old new again. We're looking at it in new terms," Couture said. "It means you're not going to be synchronizing your data at cross purposes now that you can access that cloud in the sky, it doesn't matter what device you're using because you're always going to have the right file ... and you're just going to access it from different devices."

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