Talking tech since 2003

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iCloud storage and synchronization platform at WWDC this year, many immediately developed the view that it was a knockoff of the already popular Dropbox synchronization service that allows users to seamlessly synchronize vital files and folders between all of their computers.  To an extent, I would say that Apple did indeed implement ideas into iCloud that were first seen in Dropbox.  At the same time, though, iCloud really is so much more than a raw storage system.  iCloud doesn’t just hand users space to store their content, but rather makes it easy for people to really take advantage of their allotted storage in ways that Dropbox doesn’t support.  The synchronization of calendar and contact lists honestly makes Apple’s new service something that I cannot wait to get my hands on.  And the fact that email is to be a feature in the free service as well makes it all the more amazing.  Sure, this same functionality was one of the core components in the soon to be discontinued MobileMe service by Apple, but Apple has never been a real competitor to Dropbox now that their cloud offering is set to be free for anyone to use.

This said, I’m a huge fan of Dropbox and think that the platform has loads of potential.  However, now that Apple is playing hardball I really think that it has become time for Dropbox to step up its game in order to become a more competitive service.

I personally already use Dropbox as an alternative to MobileMe on my Mac simply by linking my calendar and address book data folders into my Dropbox folder so that they too are backed up and synchronized seamlessly.  While this works well for me, the fact of the matter is that doing so is an advanced task not necessarily suitable for your average end-user to support.  Moreover, the fact that my little hack simply synchronizes application data files means that all computers accessing the files need to be running the same operating system, so there is no cross-platform syncing.

But really, it wouldn’t be that far-fetched of an idea for Dropbox to implement the ability to synchronize calendars and contact books with the Dropbox service.  Think about it.  Dropbox already has daemons for Windows, Mac OS X, and even Linux.  All they would really have to do would be to add the functionality to read entries from the common personal information management applications, store them on their backend in a standardized format, and then push them back to other desktops from the central copy.  There are already such synchronization systems out there, but I think that Dropbox has the user-base to make theirs successful.

Of course this would be a challenging task to accomplish, especially when considering the sheer number of popular information management applications available throughout different platforms; all of which would need to have their API’s or file structures coded into the respective Dropbox daemon for each operating system.  But in the long run, I think that Dropbox has the resources (investors) to make such an operation entirely feasible.  More importantly, I think the company has the user-base and popularity to make this profitable.

Much like iCloud and even the Ubuntu One service that users of the Canonical-backed operating system take advantage of, I also think that Dropbox should seriously be considering opening a music store that would integrate seamlessly into the Dropbox synchronization system.  I realize that it wouldn’t be an iTunes killer by any stretch of the imagination, but there really is a cross-platform market there that I think there is still room for competition in; even with iTunes already being well-established.

Needless to say, Dropbox also needs to sharpen up on a few other ends if they want to be able to compete with the almighty iCloud service.  The biggest thing, in my opinion, would be upping the amount of free storage given to users of the service, and retrospectively increasing the allowances for paid users as well.  Dropbox’s 2GB of storage space is indeed generous, and I’d hate for anyone to think otherwise, but the fact of the matter is that since Dropbox started 2gb of free space per user the value of that space has gone down dramatically.  Just look at the storage space increases that Google has given its own users over the years and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

And as much as people may disagree, I would personally like to see Dropbox kick the invitation system that currently gives users additional storage for bringing their friends and family onboard to the curb.  Sadly I think that this system is too widely abused, and I think it has gotten to the point where Dropbox should just give users larger storage allocations to begin with instead of using the silly invite system.

Dropbox is a great service, and as much as I love the concept of iCloud I really would be sad to see it shadow out Dropbox completely.  And with rumor pointing towards the idea that Apple may be retiring support for the Windows XP operating system, the market is definitely there to be tapped into.


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