The secret behind all those shiny CES gadgets? Cloud computing

As usual, a big chunk of the news out of the Consumer Electronics Show this year revolves around bright-and-shiny devices. But this time out, those devices are acting as the Trojan horses for the hardware makers’ cloud vision.
Backend cloud services are now pretty much required as hardware companies struggle to build more intimate relationships with PC or tablet buyers to keep them coming back for more. With the exception of Apple (s aapl) Macs, most desktop and laptop PCs are seen as pretty much interchangeable: People buy what’s cheapest.
At CES, Acer showed off a new slim Ultrabook measuring 15 mm thick at its fattest point and weighing less than three pounds. But, more importantly, the company also launched AcerCloud, which will let PC users store and retrieve their files any time. Cloud access will come with all new Acer consumer PCs. The effort was promptly slammed as a blatant knock-off of Apple’s iCloud.
In that same vein, Lenovo announced Lenovo Personal Cloud along with its new hardware. Lenovo’s own verbiage shows what these hardware companies are trying to do. Lenovo’s “personal cloud vision” marks:

the transformation of the company from a “personal computer” manufacturer to a “personal cloud solution” provider that integrates hardware, software and cloud computing together

The wrinkle here is that these PC makers — Acer, Hewlett-Packard (s hpq) Lenovo, Toshiba, Dell (s dell) et al., are competing not only against each other but against nimbler new-age companies that offer cloud-based storage, compute and application services without being tied down to a hardware albatross. That means Acer and Lenovo are also competing with the likes of Dropbox, and others as well as Amazon (s amzn) which is using its Kindle franchise as the storefront to its massive online store.
The beauty of the cloud computing model, which conceals so much complexity from the user as reported here, is that it can deliver very easy to obtain and consume services without requiring much technical savvy on the part of that user. Hardware makers now know they have to be in this game to make their endpoints desirable in this increasingly connected world. In short, they’re offering more cloud services to keep themselves — and their hardware — relevant.