And here is why.
DropBox is a feature and not a product. Those were the words of late Steve Jobs, sometime around 2009. I don’t know if that was a reaction of a man not getting what he wanted, but the real question here is was he right? Let’s look at what the market says. With 100 million plus users and a valuation of $4 billion, DropBox is probably the most desired “feature” ever built.
But for the sake of this article, let’s say he was right, and that DropBox is a feature indeed. Then it’s safe to assume that iCloud is the product.
iCloud was introduced in mid-2011 after Apple unsuccessfully tried to acquire DropBox.
The latest stats say that iCloud has a quarter of a billion users. That seems like a lot, and it’s certainly more than DropBox. But, hey who doesn’t want a backup of their photos. Sync of your calendar and email. Keynotes in the cloud.
Anyway, let’s take a moment and put all the features of the two services aside and zoom out. Between the two clouds, there’s only one key difference. And that’s the difference in the approach that’s so characteristic for Apple.
Apple wants to keep you tied only in their ecosystem. That’s why iCloud doesn’t have a folder structure. No, it’s not because it’ll just work, but because you, the user, shouldn’t be able to control it easily. As a result your free space gets filled up very fast with stuff that you probably don’t need. And in a blink of an eye you need to buy more space, and you don’t even know what’s in there.
I get a good laugh every time I read that your iTunes songs are backed up on your iCloud account. They are not backed up. They are not copied there. They are only associated with your account, and when you download them, you’re actually downloading from iTunes and not from iCloud. Everything is supposed to be simple with Apple, but in fact it’s quite complicated.
And that’s why users love DropBox.
They took the virtual hard drive approach. Let’s give the customer a place to store their stuff. People are free to store whatever they like. It’s easy and simple to do.
And that’s all good on paper, but when you get to a million files it doesn’t get any different from your real hard drive. So, you need to spend time to organize, delete all the unnecessary files because they eat up your space and even carefully separate stuff in folders.
So, which approach wins in the long term? I guess it will not be iCloud. Historically speaking Apple always embraced the closed system approach. Sometimes that works, but probably not in this case. As developer, there’s not much you can do with iCloud and as user it will probably always stay as a place for backup that you probably don’t know exists.
On the other hand, people love to put all kinds of files on DropBox. And that’s good. Freedom, no limitations, and access from any device (not just Apple). DropBox did well. They only need to find a way to improve the organization of documents.
But, in my opinion that should be done by third party developers. There’s only that much that DropBox could do and certainly they can’t think of all the possible ideas and execute them. So, I see their service more as a platform that developers can build on.
At our startup we took this approach. We’re working on DoxBee , an email compatible document collaboration system that replaces attachments with distributed version control. DropBox (and possibly Box, GDrive, SkyDrive etc.) will store your attachments and we’re going to organize them, make them searchable and add version control and some extra features. And this is only for documents.
Users keep all kinds of data in the Cloud. It needs to be organized and used in creative ways. Clouds are not simple virtual hard drives, they can be programmed and you as a developer can take advantage of that.