Dropbox: A Story of Unrealized Potential

When Dropbox launched in 2008 it was remarkable, people weren't much talking about "the cloud" before Dropbox, but they sure were once it hit the scene. iCloud was still three years away at this point, and the notion that you could access your files anywhere, on any device was remarkable. Even more remarkable was the fact that it worked, Dropbox was reliable and robust, leaving cloud skeptics thinking twice, and catching the eye of a certain Steve Jobs. Dropbox felt like the future, or at the very least a product and company that was going to be heavily involved in influencing the future, particularly with regards to mobile.

But fast-forward nearly seven years and it doesn't seem like Dropbox has really moved forward all that much. It's comfortably the most reliable of the popular consumer cloud services but the same was true seven years ago – what have they done for us lately? I use Dropbox, but I find myself using it less and less. I find their iOS apps as horrid to use as they've ever been despite numerous updates; and more than anything else Dropbox remains chained to an increasingly antiquated-feeling traditional filesystem. It's easy to champion Dropbox's decision to stick with this system, given it's reliability and the contrasting woes of iCloud prior to the launch of iCloud Drive. But to do so is short-sighted and sets expectation painfully low for an area of technology that has a lot of room for improvement. 

Users don't really want to have to deal with their documents in a filesystem any more than they do their music or photos, but that's exactly what we've got and Dropbox is an extension of that. Apple may well have failed with their original implementation of iCloud by abstracting the filesystem and keeping files within apps, but at least they tried doing something different. Apple saw a problem and tried to solve it, Dropbox on the other hand either don't realise the problem or choose not to tackle it – that makes me question their ambition. Is Dropbox truly innovative, or are they dragged down by their own expectational debt?

There are other signs of lacking ambition as well. They acquired email client Mailbox in early 2013 and have seemingly done very little with it, last I checked it still only works with Gmail and iCloud, which means I can't use it even if I wanted to. Having Gmail and iCloud covered is important but you're still leaving a lot of people out, even something as widespread as Yahoo Mail doesn't get a look in. This kind of product stagnation could cost them soon with Carousel too as Photos.app is adopted by more and more Mac users, meaning their entire photo collection will be in the cloud for them on all their devices in a more integrated way than Dropbox could hope to achieve. 

Dropbox also offers email app Mailbox and photo backup service Carousel.

Dropbox also offers email app Mailbox and photo backup service Carousel.

Here's a question — and I wonder if the executive team at Dropbox have ever asked themselves this — is Dropbox a service or a platform? The answer is both and it was recently answered as such rather resoundingly by the creators of Glide, an amazing tool that uses Dropbox as the back-end to create fully-fledged, high quality iOS apps simply by storing text, images, and video in Dropbox. This is the future and Dropbox are completely missing out on it, they don't even realise what they're sitting on. Their loss is going to be Glide's gain and the potential here is astounding; Glide has the chance to do for apps what Squarespace did for web design – bring it to the masses in a very real way – and that would be huge. I bet Dropbox has never even considered itself as a platform, never mind come up with something as revolutionary as Glide. Dropbox is great, but it could be so much more, and I fear it won't be.