You rely on multiple devices to get your work done -- your desktop, phone, and tablet. Keeping information and apps synced across all those devices is a hassle. Dropbox wants to solve that problem with a set of new tools introduced this week.
"We are replacing the hard drive," Dropbox CEO Drew Houston told Wired. "I don't mean that you're going to unscrew your MacBook and find a Dropbox inside, but the spiritual successor to the hard drive is what we're launching."
Google, Apple, and Evernote are all tackling the same problem: Users have multiple devices, and a need to share information hassle-free among all those devices. The companies are going about this problem in different ways. Google wants information to live in the cloud and be accessible through the browser. Apple wants information to live in the cloud and be accessed through apps -- primarily apps on Apple devices. Evernote wants to be an all-in-one app for everything.
Until recently, six-year-old Dropbox found a role as a sort of magic folder that users saw on their Windows Explorer or Mac Finder. The Dropbox folder behaves like a normal folder, except it syncs automatically to the cloud, and to all the user's other devices that have Dropbox installed.
Now, Dropbox -- which unveiled its announcements at its first-ever developers' conference this week -- is looking to move from the filesystem directly into applications.
On Tuesday, Dropbox introduced the Datastore API, simple databases that allow developers to build apps with Dropbox sync built-in. The databases can store settings, contacts, and user-generated content.
Previously, mobile apps already used Dropbox to store that kind of data, but developers had to build Dropbox connections manually. Now, Dropbox is doing much of that work for developers.
The Dropbox Saver allows developers to build apps that automatically save data to Dropbox rather than locally -- or, to be more precise, the data is put in local storage that automatically mirrors to Dropbox. Yahoo integrated the Saver with Yahoo Mail in April.
The tools will allow users to have information such as photos, videos, ebooks, and other files available instantly on all their devices. The clip-art service Shutterstock is integrating Dropbox Saver to allow users to download media straight to Dropbox.
And the Chooser for iOS and Android allows users to open files from Dropbox directly into mobile apps.
Dropbox is growing fast, with 175 million users, up from 100 million in November.
In addition to synching data, Dropbox wants to make it easier for applications to share data. "We have all these companies making all this amazing stuff, but they're punching each other in the face," Houston said.
For example, a fitness-tracking app might store user data, combine it with data from a healthcare app, and turn the result over to a doctor, according to Wired.
For IT, this means another step forward in so-called "cloud sprawl," where users sign up for cloud services without IT's blessing or even their knowledge. Users are no longer waiting for IT to solve business problems; they're finding solutions on their own. That presents all sorts of potential management headaches, including multiple redundant installations of the same service, regulated and secure data leaving enterprise control, problems managing access, and more. It also presents possibilities, if Dropbox can deliver services with the management and security tools that IT requires.
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ó Mitch Wagner , Editor in Chief, Internet Evolution