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Last update: November 2021

4 mins to read - 2021/11/19

Why Is Device-Side Processing the Next Wave of Innovation in Mobile?

Edge computing – or, as those in the know more commonly talk about it – device-side computing, is one of the most exciting developments on the horizon of the mobile industry. And yet, it’s still only causing ripples among mobile developers. Cloud computing is still very much the trend, even though it’s problematic in many ways. Processing data at the edge (i.e. directly on the individual devices where the data originates) provides a solution for these pain points, and many more. By all accounts, it looks like the mobile industry is slowly but surely headed in the direction of device-side processing.

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Cloud Processing Versus Device-Side Processing

Before we get into the benefits of device-side processing, we first need to examine the ways cloud processing falls short. Cloud computing – where data is removed from the device and sent to a centralized cloud server for processing – by necessity involves a time lag. This can be detrimental to time-sensitive processes. In many cases it isn’t feasible to have one centralized data processing center for multiple trillions of pieces of data coming from different devices. To store so much data in one cloud also creates considerable data privacy and security risks.

Device-side processing, on the other hand, takes place on the device itself. For example, with push notifications, any data needed to personalize the content or moment of delivery is leveraged directly on the device. This has diverse benefits in terms of data privacy, data minimization, and streamlining of processing.

Data Privacy and Device-Side Processing

We have recently published a series of blog posts about data privacy in the mobile engagement industry, and how device-side computing puts user privacy first.

Regional data privacy regulations – most prominently, the US COPPA, HIPAA, and CCPA, and the EU’s GDPR – require any software that transports user data to a cloud to get that user’s permission before processing. (Or, in the case of COPPA, their parents’ permission.) Traditional push notification SDKs transport a piece of data called a push token to either Apple’s APNS or Android’s Firebase cloud server. Any app that integrates one of these SDKs has to first gain user consent, or risk being penalized.

However, by using device-side processing an app can make use of data without removing it from the user’s device. This means the data remains 100% in the user’s possession. No 3rd party ever has to have access to it, and it’s not vulnerable to security breaches the way it would be in a cloud server. Processing data device-side means a more ethical, responsible way of personalizing mobile marketing and advertising for users, without having to sacrifice UX or implement clunky user consent mechanisms before tracking data.

Other Benefits of Device-Side

In addition to satisfying all privacy regulation requirements, device-side processing is a positive shift for the mobile industry in many other ways. By doing away with the time lag incurred by sending data to a cloud server and waiting for it to be processed, doing it on-device means apps can send highly personalized messages in real-time. Reliable delivery means developers can schedule notifications to deliver at specific times, or after certain contextual signals, without worrying that there will be delays, or that some messages will fail to deliver.

What’s more, device-side computing allows for data minimization, an important pillar for most data privacy regulations. Essentially, data minimization means only tracking data that’s necessary for UX or your app’s utility. So rather than tracking masses of user data 24/7, which is both invasive and wasteful in terms of storage and processing power, you would only track the data points that serve a purpose.

Where Apple Treads, Others Soon Follow…

Apple, always a trailblazer in the mobile industry, is already working device-side processing into their newest iterations of iOS. In their Privacy – Features section, they outline how Siri’s functions are now device-side:

“When you ask Siri to read or search for information on your device, such as in Messages and Notes, and when Siri provides suggestions, like through widgets and Siri Search, all your personal information is kept on your device rather than being sent to Apple servers. Siri Suggestions in the QuickType keyboard are made possible by an Apple-developed neural network language process that also runs directly on your device.”

Furthermore, the audio of users’ Siri requests are now processed 100% on-device, unless users opt to share it with Apple. As of the iOS 15, other personal data of Apple users is also being processed on-device, such as their Apple Pay transaction history and queries and suggestions in Apple News. It’s likely that in the future more iOS functions will shift from being cloud-based to on-device, as privacy becomes more and more of a concern in our data-driven society.

And, as the other giants of the tech world tend to follow Apple’s lead when it comes to privacy innovations, it’s likely we’ll see Android devices adopt device-side processing in the next few years as well.

Conclusion

Device-side processing just makes sense. It enables a superior UX by improving reliable delivery and eliminating time lag. It saves space and processing power, as all processing of data is distributed over the user devices, and it’s possible to only process the data that’s necessary. And, most importantly, it is the safest option for leveraging user data, in that it never removes it from the devices or allows 3rd parties to access it.

And with Apple as the canary in the coal mine, it’s highly likely that device-side processing will soon replace the slower, clunkier cloud processing framework the mobile industry has been held back by for years.

To learn more about device-side computing and its benefits for mobile engagement, get in touch with one of our experts.

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