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Dropbox to Become iOS File System for Real?

In a glowing profile of Dropbox in Forbes back in 2011, Victoria Barret told the story of how Dropbox’s Drew Houston turned down an offer from Apple — from Steve Jobs himself! — to buy Dropbox for a nine-figure sum. Dropbox’s fortunes have far from waned, with the service now boasting over 100 million users and an estimated valuation of $4 billion, but we’ve heard rumblings that Apple may once again be looking to acquire Dropbox in an effort to provide a true distributed filesystem for iOS.

According to a source within the company, Apple CEO Tim Cook is a huge Dropbox fan, requiring all corporate documents to appear in his Dropbox folder so he can access them quickly on any of his devices, wherever he may be. Plus, he is reportedly unhappy about how difficult it is to move documents back and forth between his iPad and Mac, and to share documents with colleagues. Our source says Cook has expressed his frustrations in meetings, echoing his statement to Bloomberg Businessweek about the Maps situation and saying, “we screwed up” with regard to documents in iOS.

Since its inception, iOS has suffered from clumsy, app-based file handling. Sandboxing apps away from each other increases security but forces users to jump through hoops to copy files between apps and devices, wastes limited device space on duplicated data, and makes it all the harder to collaborate with others. Many developers have sidestepped iOS’s limitations in this respect by integrating support for Dropbox, thus enabling their apps to read and write documents stored on the cloud file-sharing service. Dropbox support also lets anyone with whom a document is shared work with whatever application and platform is appropriate, rather than being limited to Apple’s platforms and iCloud-savvy apps, Mac versions of which can be distributed only through the Mac App Store.

Although Dropbox has only become more popular since Apple’s last attempt to buy the company, Apple’s need for such a solution has become greater, with customers expressing exasperation at iOS file handling and competitors spinning up Dropbox-like services, most notably Google Drive and Microsoft’s SkyDrive (see “Google Drive and SkyDrive Take Aim at Dropbox,” 24 April 2012). The price of acquiring Dropbox would undoubtedly be steep — some have suggested that Apple might have to pony up as much as $10 billion. But as our source related, Tim Cook is unperturbed by this, commenting, “It’s not like Apple doesn’t have the money, and what’s it good for if not to buy the things I want?”

One current concern — developer revolt surrounding iCloud Core Data syncing — would not be addressed were Apple to buy Dropbox, since Dropbox’s technology is still entirely document-based. It’s entirely possible that Dropbox is working on extending the Dropbox API to support database-level syncing as well, but the company has made no public statements to that effect.

The real question, if Tim Cook were to be successful in convincing Dropbox’s executive team to sell out, is what would happen to Dropbox users on non-Apple platforms? Apple has never been enthusiastic about Windows programs, and it’s difficult to see Apple bothering to maintain an Android or Windows Mobile client. Such a move would undoubtedly be a boon for Dropbox competitors like SugarSync and Dolly Drive, though neither has the same level of API-based integration with independent apps.


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Comments about Dropbox to Become iOS File System for Real?
(Comments are closed.)

Andrew Edsor  2013-04-01 06:17
I hope Apple use the TidBITS 1st April issue as their planning document for the following year; except they should leave Dropbox off it.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-04-01 07:32
Yeah, the big question of what would happen to different Dropbox client platforms after an Apple acquisition is concerning... I just can't see them maintaining Dropbox's compatibility matrix, which would also be problematic for Mac and iOS users who don't rely exclusively on Apple platforms.
John Shepherd  2013-04-02 12:12
Not to go off subject, but just wanted to say thanks Adam for all the knowledge you've given us over the years! I enjoy you on MacBreak Weekly!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-04-02 13:10
Thank you for the kind words! If you like MacBreak Weekly, be sure to check our our own sporadic video shows.
Clay Andres  2013-04-01 07:01
Damn, damn, damn! You guys do this to me every time. You'd think I'd learn that April 1st is a TidBits annual celebration of distorted reality. I almost tweeted this story as if it were true. As my children often remind me, "there's gullible written on the ceiling," and I always look up.
Steve Nicholson  2013-04-02 11:40
My sister-in-law once told me that "gullible" wasn't in the dictionary and I actually grabbed a dictionary to see for myself.
uhuznaa  2013-04-01 11:48
The point is that something like Dropbox requires no magic or buying a company. It's just a rather sane approach to saving files into the cloud especially compared to what iCloud tries to do (and fails at).

Apple could easily add something very much like Dropbox to OS X and iOS. Apple would also be very wise to do this and to make it cross-platform.
John Shepherd  2013-04-02 12:04
Didn't Apple have something similar in idisk? Seems to me they could easily revamp that product!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-04-02 13:10
At a superficial level, iDisk was akin to Dropbox, but it never had the tight integration or the same level of performance (and most notably, it never did sub-file updating). But what Dropbox does isn't rocket science any more, as is clear from the number of competitors. Apple could build a similar service if they so wanted, but they're caught up in this per-app file storage approach.
Brian Dishman  2013-04-05 17:26
I find it interesting that everyone talks continuously about DropBox. However, I find that DropBox is nowhere near as interesting or useful as Box. Why is Box not as popular? I have a DropBox account, but I hardly use it unless an iPad App gives only DropBox as an option. Is there something I am missing? It seems to me that Box is much better connected to the iPad.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-04-06 14:16
My understanding is that Box is more aimed at the enterprise market, whereas Dropbox has done very well at encouraging individual users and small groups to adopt it, and thus has more penetration into other apps.