What's Powering the Apps on My Smartphone? The Cloud, of Course

Remember the Internet in its early stages? We thought it was really cool to check out the weather or look up a retail store's hours without having to call a soul.

Fast forward to today. I get into my car in the morning on the way to work and my phone checks the traffic, finding the best route. During a quick stop at Starbucks, my Starbucks card pops up on my phone as I walk through the door so I don't have to open the app to pay. Another app streams personalized music during my commute.

With gadgets this useful and fun, is it any wonder that they seem like an extension of ourselves? That 90 percent of those of us who own smartphones keep them within an arm's length 100 percent of the time?

We feel so connected to our devices that it's surprising to find that the magic powering them isn't found inside their shiny cases. Instead, it's up in the cloud. In fact, mobile and cloud computing are intricately linked and will become ever more so. So making sure they're secure is going to become critical to all of us.

People are piling up too much information -- pictures, videos, music, work documents -- for any device to hold. The cloud is what makes it possible for us to store these bits of data and access them whenever, wherever we want.

Just as the cloud is behind the popularity of apps, the power of apps is that they continually take new bits of information and give you exactly the data you need at any given moment. You personalize these services once and their owners do the rest, automatically updating the apps with data fed from the cloud.

At the same time, our phones are becoming remote controls for our lives. Want to start your car from the office on a cold day or turn up the heat on the way home from work? Smartphones, as an extension of ourselves, can do that today and increasingly, will become even smarter, tracking data from your car, for instance, to tell you when to change the oil, relying on the cloud all the while.

Still, the advance that amazes me the most is how smartphones can make sense of the environment around us and what we're doing. The GPS on my phone, for instance, can communicate with a map service, measuring my speed and the speed of other people on the same road to create an accurate picture of the traffic because it's constantly updated.

Still, in embracing this new world, we're going to help usher in the types of security problems we've never faced before. Because interconnecting all of these devices and layering on data pulled not just from our social interactions and work, but our health and homes, will create huge new risks.

That's why it's crucial that we as consumers are careful about which services we sign up to use, that we know something about the companies behind the apps we download.

It's also why it's so important for the industry to agree on open standards as it weaves the cloud and mobile together. No single company can move this standardization along, but if industries don't work together, the privacy and security problems that will result will become all too clear to the rest of us.

To learn more about IBM's SmartCloud, click here.