New Dropbox APIs could redefine file sharing

But there's theory and application
Tools

At the first Dropbox developer conference this week, dubbed DBX, Dropbox made a big announcement that it was transforming from a simple service to an application platform.

On first blush, the platform looks quite intriguing too because instead of simply transferring files across services, the new Datastore API will allow you to transmit data, including things like settings, contact or to-do list items, across platforms regardless of device, OS or even app.

In addition, two Drop-in APIs provide other key functionality. According to Dropbox, "Drop-ins let developers connect to hundreds of millions of Dropboxes with just a few lines of code. The Chooser gives people access to the files in their Dropbox from web and mobile apps, and the Saver makes saving files to Dropbox one-click simple."

Larry Hawes, principal at Dow Brook Consulting, says this is a move Dropbox had to make if it wants to move beyond a consumer-focused tool. 

"Dropbox knew that their growth would be limited as long as they continued to go to market with an application built on a commoditized feature, namely file synchronization. While they have done a great job of making sync easier than any of their competitors, that still isn't enough to compete and grow long-term," Hawes told me.

But Dropbox is hardly the first company to make a platform play or to try and transcend the operating system. We've seen companies like Box doing this for some time (and it is their Embed technology that has enabled them to partner with Salesforce.com, as we wrote this week).

Transmedia Glide has also been doing this for years, providing a way to share files securely online regardless of operating environment or application, while applying granular levels of security on a per-file basis.

What makes this interesting is the fact that Dropbox is introducing it at a time that it's been making a strong play for the enterprise, adding security controls and focusing more on business customers, but Hawes thinks it may play better in the consumer space.

"Dropbox's move to build and offer a platform around their sync capability and extend it beyond files--to contacts, to-do items, even game states--should provide the next wave of growth for the company, at least in the consumer space," he said.

I think enterprise developers could find ways to make use of it too, so long as these types of calls can be made securely. It's also unclear how companies like Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), which tend to frown upon this type of openness, will react when Dropbox starts communicating across applications, devices and platforms.

But Hawes says even with the APIs, Dropbox has a long way to go to earn the trust of IT pros. "Dropbox has such a bad reputation with IT that it will take a massive effort to change the existing perception that it is not an enterprise-ready service, even if it is. Especially in terms of security and privacy. Having a platform, instead of just an app, might get the attention of enterprise app developers, but I really think Dropbox's announcement was targeted at developers of consumers apps that are sold through the Apple App Store and Google Play," he told me.

Plus as a Wired article points out, this anything but a slam-dunk for Dropbox regardless of how the various players react.

Getting it to work beyond proof of concept will be challenging, but the idea of going beyond moving files to moving data seamlessly across environments--while giving enterprise developers access to multiple Dropbox stores--could, if it works as planned, be a significant step forward for the company.

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