DropBox vs. iCloud: In it to win it?

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.

Pandodaily’s Farhad Majoo, Steve Jobs was right: Dropbox is a feature, not a product:

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.

More from TechCrunch, Apple’s iCloud Is No Dropbox Killer (It’s Much More):

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?…

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8 Responses to “DropBox vs. iCloud: In it to win it?”

  1. Chase Pursley (@gcpursley) February 28, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    Dropbox ‘just works’ seamlessly across multiple platforms, including my mobile phone, my mac and my pc.

    Guess we’ll see how this plays out, but I think that current dropbox customers like me are going to need a very compelling reason to switch.

    And I hope that dropbox does not add new features. Features kill products.

    • Dominic Zabriskie February 28, 2012 at 11:16 am #

      I agree, Dropbox does ‘just work’, and will continue to be a preferred file storage and sync platform for many.

      That said, I bet Dropbox is watching every move iCloud makes, as iCloud will definitely have an impact on the business they are able to garner from devout Apple customers in the years to come….

  2. Dave Lewand February 28, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    Good stuff, Dominic. I have found that the 3 services (iCloud, dropbox, box.net) all have value. While I personally prefer box.net for its file collaboration features and branding options, I think that it makes sense to gain a familiarity with all three for this reason: you may want to use whatever solution that your client is most familiar with.

    For example, in the case of file/project collaboration……if my client uses and appreciates dropbox as a solution, in my opinion it is unwise to shift them to box.net or iCloud. It’s my responsibility to determine their preference and accommodate/collaborate in an environment without a learning curve.

    Thanks again for the article, Dominic!

    • Dominic Zabriskie February 28, 2012 at 11:29 am #

      Thanks Dave!

      Agreed, I probably use Box more than any other file storage/sharing/syncing service.

      It is complete insanity to me that title companies and closing attorneys continue to email 100s (if not 1000s) of documents back and forth during a CRE deal. When I use Box, they are always blown away on how much time and energy it saves.

      Also, the collaboration feature of Box is great to save email chain questions/responses on specific documents. But I can’t get everyone to use it, and when one person doesn’t use it, no one does. Maybe one day this will change… until then, I’ll be posting comments on files in Box for my own entertainment….

  3. Monique Fox February 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    Interesting thoughts, Dominic. Dropbox, box.net, iCloud, etc are all great file storage services, however I would agree that unless they can easily be integrated into one’s daily business environment, they serve more as a personal-use feature as opposed to an enterprise product. I believe competition in this sector goes beyond the discussed providers. Several of today’s cloud-based CRMs are offering their own document / file storage or app add-on for business purposes which then allows for a more seamless approach to deal management. Additionally, many industries including the CRE industry has been keen to the use of Virtual Deal Rooms or on-line War Rooms for file sharing for the last several years, and I anticipate it won’t be long before we see their services evolve to a more mobile /cloud friendly platform as well. My general thoughts are that these file-storage services will either need to become more enterprise suited or the enterprise platforms will become file-storage suited.

    • Dominic Zabriskie March 2, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

      Monique, I think Box is pretty well positioned to be considered an “enterprise” solution at this point. Their clients include Proctor & Gamble, Turner, MTV and LinkedIn.

      The thing I dislike about Box is that you can’t track who views or downloads what documents like you can in other document centers.

      (Well, you can, but it costs you $15 per user. You have to add the user as a”collaborator” and each collaborator costs me $15 under my plan…)

      With CRE deals having dozens, if not 100s of investors accessing due diligence rooms, it is imperative that brokers can track every view or download each investor makes. So, there are other solutions which are better suited for this type of tracking.

      But as a business file management and dissemination tool, I personally feel nothing beats Box right now, considering the collaboration tools and file syncing and sharing abilities.

  4. THE TENANT ADVISOR (@CoyDavidsonCRE) January 13, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    The enterprise and CRE will have to get on board with Apple for iCloud to become the preferred solution. Many companies are still mandating Windows PC’s. I have moved to all Apple devices #BYOD poster boy.

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