Over the last week or two, I’ve read several articles on how Apple is angling to go head-to-head with DropBox with such vigor that DropBox risks never seeing another Apple user sign up for its service.
Dropbox is one of the few genuinely delightful tools I use regularly, and I’m constantly recommending it to friends and family.
And yet I’m extremely skeptical about Dropbox’s business prospects, and totally puzzled by the high hopes that otherwise smart people have pinned on its success. Dropbox is a great little file-syncing app, and founder Drew Houston and crew are already making some nice money out of it. But is it a $40 billion company? I doubt it.
The idea, of course, is not novel. It’s what startups like Dropbox are doing today: making a drive that appears like any other, but that can be accessed from any machine. While on the surface, it’s easy to dub iCloud “Apple’s version of Dropbox,” the truth is actually more complex: it’s about building a new computing paradigm.
So, while we can all agree that DropBox is a great service, how does iCloud intend on edging it out? Farhad Majoo goes on to say:
In its current form, Dropbox is great at syncing stuff that I’ve saved to my filesystem, but there’s a lot more to device syncing than just what I’ve stored in data files. When I switch from my desktop to laptop to my phone to my tablet, I would really like my device’s “state” to follow me, not just my files.
When I later opened up my MacBook Air, I could access the Word file and my text notepad through Dropbox. But I had to make my computer do so. In a perfect syncing scenario, my laptop would know what I had been doing on my desktop and would offer to open up the right windows for me, preferably in the identical places on the screen—but Dropdox doesn’t do that. Worse, Dropbox can’t sync my Chrome and IM activity in any way.[…]
I can think of many other things that would be great to keep synced between devices: Desktop icons and images, peripheral drivers (so that when I connect a camera to my work computer, my home computer recognizes it too), and application preferences (I like my Word documents set to 180 percent zoom).
Watching the above iCloud Harmony TV commercial, Apple aims to do exactly this. From a recent TechCrunch article covering the ad:
The genius of iCloud is that once it’s setup, the service runs with virtually zero user interaction. But the current incarnation is still pretty limited. What Apple shows in the video above is pretty much all it can do. However, with Mountain Lion, iCloud is set to become a robust cloud service with a feature set rivaling that of even Dropbox. For better or worse, it’s going to be deeply baked into OS X and able to sync most anything between a user’s Apple devices[…]
As it stands now, it may be nearly (if not down right) impossible for DropBox to provide its users the same experience. More thoughts from Farhad Majoo:
Dropbox is probably working to build many of these features as well. But as third-party app, it’s just not in a very good technical position to do so. In order to sync programs and window states, Dropbox would need access to some of the deeper parts of my various gadgets’ OSes. This is easy for some operating systems and impossible with others—including iOS and probably Amazon’s Kindle Fire. Apple could easily build a way to sync the current browser tabs between my Mac and my iPhone, so that I can switch from reading Pando on my couch to reading it on the train. Dropbox will need to go through incredible hacks to achieve the same functionality, and it probably won’t manage to do so even then.
So, what does this mean for CRE industry professionals? Well, not a lot in the near term, as iCloud is more of a personal assistant than an application which you’d regularly use to share business files with clients.
I, for one, prefer to maintain separation between my personal files and my work files. And the easiest way to do this is to simply use two separate services (i.e. iCloud for personal and DropBox for work). But, in the long run, DropBox will most likely have to change its pricing model or add new and exciting features… Again, Farhad Majoo:
Dropbox makes money by charging people for increased storage space. But the price of storage keeps plummeting. It’s tending toward free. With all the competition it faces from firms with huge data centers, Dropbox isn’t going to be able to get people to keep paying $10 a month for 50 GB of space for many more years to come. It needs to add extra capabilities, too.
DropBox has positioned itself as consumer product, rather than an enterprise solution, like Box has. As the market evolves, personal file storage and syncing will most likely be fulfilled by companies who offer gigabytes of space as a complimentary feature to an existing product line. Think Apple’s iCloud, Amazon’s Cloud Drive and Google’s GDrive (at some point).
Sure, not everyone uses Apple devices, so there will certainly be demand for other service providers in the short term. But, as it relates to mobility, if you don’t use iOS, you’re probably using Android. With Google and Amazon dominating that space, where will this leave DropBox?…