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Posts tagged with "dropbox"

Dropbox Integrates with iOS 11’s Files App in Latest Update

Fulfilling its recent promise of integrating with iOS 11’s Files app during the OS’s launch week, Dropbox today released an updated iOS app that does just that. It is now a full-fledged file provider in Files, allowing you to access and manage all of your Dropbox files directly from the Files app.

Adding Files support means Dropbox files can now live alongside files from iCloud Drive and other file providers. This enables things like copying files between cloud services with ease, organizing files from different providers with the same tags, and of course, using drag and drop to rearrange files (on either iPhone or iPad), or to move files to other apps (iPad only). Not all functionality from the main Dropbox app has made its way to Files, but there’s surprisingly little missing here. You can still download files on demand, and you can even share files without needing to open the Dropbox app – simply long-press the file you’d like to share and hit the Copy Link button. For me personally at least, I don’t see any reason I would need to open Dropbox anymore.

Several major cloud services pledged to support Files back in June following WWDC, and it’s great to see that, at least for one of them, that support came swiftly. Here’s hoping the rest will follow soon.


Dropbox Introduces Smart Sync for Business Customers and Paper Emerges from Beta

Last April, Dropbox announced Project Infinite, a way to see all of your Dropbox files without having to store local copies. Today, Dropbox released the renamed feature as Smart Sync, which is available exclusively to Dropbox Business customers.

An interesting thing happened in the transition to SSD storage. File space on computers began to shrink after growing year after year. The shift posed a problem for Dropbox. By default, Dropbox syncs all of the files it stores to your local drive. Suddenly, customers’ storage on Dropbox could be larger than their local storage. Add to that increases in file sharing and users were left picking and choosing which files to sync, adding friction to what is otherwise a nearly invisible service.

Smart Sync solves that problem for Dropbox Business customers by eliminating the need to store all of your Dropbox files on your local drive. Every file is visible in Finder and can be previewed with Quick Look, but if it has a cloud icon in the corner, the file is stored in the cloud, not on your local drive. As Dropbox explains it:

Users working with just 128 GB of hard drive space can easily comb through terabytes of files to find exactly what they need—right from Windows File Explorer or macOS Finder. Now, they won’t need to take extra steps—like switching to a web browser—just to view files. And whenever they need to access files stored in the cloud, users can download them with a quick double click.

Removing documents looks just as easy: highlight files, right-click, and choose ‘Remove’ from the contextual menu.

Dropbox also announced today that its collaborative document creation product called Paper is officially out of beta. Paper, which is available as an iOS and web app, has come a long way since first entered beta in late 2015, although it still lacks many of the more advanced features of products like Google Docs and Quip.

Dropbox is positioning Smart Sync and Paper as collaboration tools for sharing knowledge with colleagues. As Scott Rosenberg of Backchannel explains in an in-depth piece on Dropbox’s strategy:

Dropbox … think[s] Paper could become a sort of universal glue that connects teammates working together on updating a spreadsheet, designing a web page, reviewing code, or editing a press release. Once in place, it will save you from having to be “an archaeologist,” in [Dropbox CEO Drew] Houston’s phrase, putting an end to excavations of long email threads and chats, treasure hunts for the latest version of a file, and reconstructions of who said what.

That’s the same problem that companies like Slack are trying to solve but from a very different angle. Instead of approaching collaboration from the perspective of messaging, like Slack, Dropbox is approaching it from a content-centric point of view. Also from the Backchannel article, Dropbox’s CTO Aditya Agarwal says:

… the jury’s still out on whether, as he puts it, “everything is going to be keyed off a unit of communication, or communication is going to be keyed off some core unit of content.”

That’s an interesting way of approaching collaboration and one that turns business customers’ love/hate relationship with email on its head in a way that plays to Dropbox’s strengths.

For now, Smart Sync is only available to Dropbox Business customers, though Harry McCracken reports for Fast Company that Dropbox ‘is actively considering how to roll the feature out to consumers,’ which strikes me as an important next move for Dropbox. After all, as Rosenberg points out, Dropbox Business began with ‘engineers and other early adopters [who] embraced Dropbox… [and] started smuggling it into the workplace.



Dropbox Receives a Major iOS Update

Dropbox announced an update to its iOS app that adds five new features with a sixth promised ‘in the coming weeks.’ According to Dropbox, the update will be released today, although we have not seen it in the App Store yet.

The five new features are:

  • The ability to sign PDFs within the Dropbox app, which eliminates the need to send PDFs to another app for signing.
  • A new iMessage app that lets you access recent files from within the Messages app and insert them with a preview of the file into a conversation.
  • A new widget, from which you can scan, upload, or create new documents and access recent Dropbox files.
  • Notifications when someone else edits a document you are viewing and an opportunity to refresh the document to include the edits.
  • Picture-in-Picture support when you watch videos stored in Dropbox.

Finally, Dropbox announced that ‘in the coming weeks’ it will also add Split View support for iPad users. It’s disappointing that Split View, which was introduced with iOS 9, is still not part of Dropbox, but good to know that we should see it added before the end of the year.


Dropbox Adds Scanning Feature to iOS App

Alongside some welcome improvements to their desktop client, Dropbox announced today they're adding a document scanning feature to their iOS app:

With document scanning, you can now use the Dropbox mobile app to capture and organize scans from whiteboards, receipts, and sketches, so your ideas are right at your fingertips. Dropbox Business users can even search inside the scans.

The feature is detailed here, and it looks like it's been integrated with the '+' button to behave as any other file you'd manually import into Dropbox.

I don't think of Dropbox as an app on my phone – it's my online filesystem, which is why right now I'm struggling to imagine using it to scan documents. Essentially, I keep Dropbox on my iOS devices for two reasons: to share files with others and to grant other apps access to Dropbox. I don't spend a lot of time in the Dropbox app itself.

However, it appears that Dropbox has done a nice job in streamlining the functionality as much as possible, and I like how they're moving more and more features to Business-only users, so I'm going to give this a try.

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Dropbox Project Infinite

Interesting announcement from Dropbox today – a way to download files on-demand when using the desktop client:

With Project Infinite, we’re addressing a major issue our users have asked us to solve. The amount of information being created and shared has exploded, but most people still work on devices with limited storage capacity. While teams can store terabyte upon terabyte in the cloud, most individuals’ laptops can only store a small fraction of that. Getting secure access to all the team’s data usually means jumping over to a web browser, a clunky user experience at best.

Project Infinite will enable users to seamlessly and securely access all their Dropbox files from the desktop, regardless of how much space they have available on their hard drives. Everything in the company’s Dropbox that you’re given access to, whether it’s stored locally or in the cloud, will show up in Dropbox on your desktop. If it’s synced locally, you’ll see the familiar green checkmark, while everything else will have a new cloud icon.

In a way, this makes the desktop app more similar to the mobile clients – everything is always in Dropbox, and it's downloaded locally only when you need it. Smart move.

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Dropbox’s Exodus From the Amazon Cloud Empire

Cade Metz published a Dropbox profile for Wired, detailing how the company migrated to their own storage infrastructure:

Cowling and crew started work on the Magic Pocket software in the summer of 2013 and spent about six months building the initial code. But this was a comparatively small step. Once the system was built, they had to make sure it worked. They had to get it onto thousands of machines inside multiple data centers. They had to tailor the software to their new hardware. And, yes, they had to get all that data off of Amazon.

The whole process took two years. A project like this, needless to say, is a technical challenge. But it’s also a logistical challenge. Moving that much data across the Internet is one thing. Moving that many machines into data centers is another. And they had to do both, as Dropbox continued to serve hundreds of millions of people. “It’s like a moving car,” says Dan Williams, a former Facebook network engineer who oversaw much of the physical expansion, “and you want to be able to change a tire while still driving.” In other words, while making all these changes, Dropbox couldn’t very well shut itself down. It couldn’t tell the hundreds of millions of users who relied on Dropbox that their files were temporarily unavailable. Ironically, one of the best measures of success for this massive undertaking would be that users wouldn’t notice it had happened at all.

People who are really serious about cloud storage should make their own hardware and software, I guess.

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Dropbox Is Shutting Down Carousel and Mailbox

Unsurprising news from the Dropbox blog this morning: the company is shutting down Mailbox and Carousel, its dedicated email and photo management apps:

Building new products is about learning as much as it’s about making. It’s also about tough choices. Over the past few months, we’ve increased our team’s focus on collaboration and simplifying the way people work together. In light of that, we’ve made the difficult decision to shut down Carousel and Mailbox.

The Carousel and Mailbox teams have built products that are loved by many people and their work will continue to have an impact. We’ll be taking key features from Carousel back to the place where your photos live—in the Dropbox app. We’ll also be using what we’ve learned from Mailbox to build new ways to communicate and collaborate on Dropbox (you can see early signs of this focus with Paper).

As for transitions:

We’re committed to making the transitions from these products as painless as possible. We’ve posted more information on the Carousel blog and the Mailbox blog, and we’ll be communicating details directly to users of both apps in the coming days. Mailbox will be shut down on February 26th, 2016, and Carousel will be shut down on March 31st, 2016.

I say "unsurprising" for two reasons. I first heard of key members leaving the Mailbox team months ago, and my understanding was that the product was already done at that point. But even without this tidbit of information, it was easy to guess what would happen – both apps had languished on the App Store without major updates, showing no signs of adopting new iOS features or new features at all.

As I wrote when Dropbox announced Paper:

I don't want to see Dropbox losing focus in trying to understand what's next for them with too many experiments and semi-abandoned initiatives. I'll be keeping an eye on this.

Dropbox officially discontinuing two abandoned products can be interpreted as a willingness to regroup and focus. On the other hand, saying that Carousel had a future ahead just a few months ago and then discontinuing it today doesn't help the company's case for yet another app on top of Dropbox.

I'm a big Dropbox user – I store and share files with it every day – but I can see how other companies are implementing core Dropbox features faster than Dropbox can understand its place in 2015. However, as someone who doesn't use iCloud Drive because I don't trust it for work files, I genuinely hope Dropbox continues to exist for many years to come. Features like sharing, versions, easy restore of deleted files, clear app integrations, and its overall simplicity are still unmatched by Apple and others.

As for photos and email: Outlook for iOS is great, and you'd be better served by iCloud Photo Library or Google Photos anyway.

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Dropbox Launches ‘Paper’ Beta to Collaborate on Documents

Earlier today, Dropbox unveiled Paper, an evolution (and a not so creatively named one) of the Dropbox Notes beta announced in April. Dropbox Paper sounds like a Google Docs and Quip-like product where you can create rich documents and collaborate with others in real-time.

David Pierce explains at Wired:

Paper feels like a cross between Google Docs and Medium. It’s an ultra-minimal text editor—every new document offers space for a title and a body, and nothing else to look at. You go to paper.dropbox.com (which right now won’t get you anywhere unless you’re in the beta), and just start typing.

There’s some basic formatting in the document—you can write in Markdown, or use sub-heds and bold text. But that’s all obscured, in the hope you’ll turn off your internal font freak and just start typing. You can add images, too, dragging and dropping them around the page or making one full-bleed on the page with a single click. If you write lines of code, it’ll automatically format and style them as code. Or create a to-do list, and assign tasks to other people by @-mentioning them in the document. Or paste a Dropbox-stored file in, and it’ll automatically be available to everyone shared on your Paper document.

I'm curious to see what Dropbox does here. The company is diversifying their offer now that cloud storage has become a feature, and they're working on a mobile app to access Paper natively from iOS (right now, it's web-only). Unlike Google, Dropbox gets iOS design and conventions, and they're usually quick in adopting new iOS technologies every year (Google Docs still doesn't support iPad multitasking on iOS 9).

The closest service that comes to mind when looking at Paper is Quip (which was also in the news today), but Dropbox has the advantage of building on an existing foundation of collaboration, files, email, and search. On the other hand, I don't want to see Dropbox losing focus in trying to understand what's next for them with too many experiments and semi-abandoned initiatives. I'll be keeping an eye on this.

Side note: if you receive a link to a Dropbox Paper document right now, it'll open with a Universal Link in the Dropbox app inside a web view. It works okay, but there needs to be a native app for this soon.

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