This week Read Write Web offered a sneak peek at Apple’s $1 billion data center in North Carolina. There’s a lot of speculation about just what Apple is up to, but some form of cloud based solution is pretty much a given. No doubt, Apple wants to get a piece of the mobile cloud computing pie, which is expected to be a $9.5 billion business by 2014.

Critics have lamented the iPad’s limited storage capacity and lack of SD memory expansion slot, but they’re not thinking about the power of the cloud. If Apple (or others) were to offer document storage and media streaming through the cloud, storage space would become much less important. In my mind, this is a very logical progression for Apple. Access to your digital life across a variety of devices, from anywhere, at any time will be at the heart of Apple’s strategy. It will help them sell more hardware.

Existing cloud computing and virtualization companies should be very well positioned for the next generation of devices that Apple’s iPad represents. Moving processing power and storage capacity to the cloud will extend battery life and increase the capabilities of handheld devices. Of course, a persistent Internet connection is needed to make this all function, but I expect to see the “Internet everywhere” effort get a boost once these devices start hitting the street in significant numbers.

A move to toward cloud computing makes me question whether Apple will continue to use storage capacity as a differentiator between models, like they have with iPhone and iPod. I’m guessing they will find new ways to differentiate such as size, speed and connectivity (similar to their desktops and laptops). We’re already seeing hints of this with the 3G and wi-fi only versions of iPad.

iPad pricing

iPad pricing is differentiated by storage and connectivity (wi-fi only versus 3G+wi-fi)