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The dream: Access everything, anywhere, anytime

Idealog is following some of the members of the eSprint programme at Massey University's ecentre as they develop and validate their business concepts. Today, Brad McEvoy contemplates a new opportunity for digital file sharing.

The Problem

For about a decade the computer has been the hub for our digital media. Photos, music, video as well as contacts, emails and calendars were all on the computer. Sometime we'd use them by putting songs onto an MP3 player, or we'd burn photos to a CD, or we'd email files to ourselves or a friend or colleague.

More recently we'd use Dropbox or Facebook to share files, but still, the computer is the hub. If we want access to all our files we need the computer.

But now we're entering an age where most of out computing will be done on multiple, mobile devices. Many of us will have a smart phone, a tablet, a laptop and perhaps also a work computer and a home media centre.

But how to get access to all of our digital media from all of those devices? To manually copy data as needed would be chaotic, at best.

The Solution

What's needed is a service that automatically synchronises data across all of your devices, and also houses that data in the web where it can be accessed even if you don't have your own device at hand.

Access everything from any device,

Nothing new to learn,

No ads.

The Opportunity

Of course this proposition isn't completely new. Apple has a very good product in this area, called iCloud. Microsoft has its Windows Live and Google has a vast array of services which provide cloud storage, such asGoogle Music and Google Docs. And then there's the niche providers. Dropbox, Photorocket, mp3tunes all offer parts of the solution, but not an integrated whole.

Of the main influencers, only Apple currently has a strong offering, and that's after a dismal failure with MobileMe – which even Steve Jobs ridiculed. The fact is this product category is new, cutting edge, rapidly evolving and just plain hard.

There is an opportunity simply in providing a better integrated service than the alternatives.

But let's assume that all of the major players will release strong offerings. Is there still an opportunity?

Here in NZ, like most of the world, we've all got limited bandwidth plans for our home internet connection, and even more limited plans for our mobile (3G) devices. It is simply not cost-effective to synchronise all of our data with the US, where Apple, Microsoft and Google have their data centres.

We would like to approach ISPs and see if they are interested in partnering with us to provide a "local" storage service where most of a user's traffic is kept within national boundaries. This would reduce costs to ISPs and these savings could be passed to consumers in the form of zero-rated bandwidth for this service.

Pricing

The cost to store all of a typical user's digital media in the cloud, if leveraging scale, could be as low as about $3 per year. The bandwidth to access that data, if kept within national boundaries, can also be kept very low. This compares to the cost of a subscription Dropbox account of between $120 and $240 per year.

Next Steps

There are two sides to this equation:

* Do people really want a service like this? I think so, but I'll be approaching as many people as I can over the next couple of weeks to verify this and find common patterns.

* Would ISPs, or other technology service providers, like to partner with us? On the surface it sounds reasonable, but I'll be approaching whatever ISPs I can to ask for their thoughts. I will also attempt to contact photo printing companies and other service providers.

Brad McEvoy is participating in the ecentreSprint programme, a 12-week course held by Massey University's business incubator that helps entrepreneurs develop their business idea and model.