Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

The dropbox endgame

The more I look at Dropbox, the more it intrigues me. Dropbox is one of the most basic applications ever. Storage ‘in the cloud’, executed to perfection.

File synchronization, online backup, sharing and versioning all in one very slick and easy to use package. It’s one of those things that could have a million competitors but for some reason no serious competition has materialized to date.

For the last weeks I’ve been wondering what Dropbox will do in the future. Where will they go, what’s their final goal. And much as I tried, I couldn’t see anything in the tea-leaves.

Speculations like these - especially when they concern a specific company - are always hard, but in the case of Dropbox, because of its simplicity, it’s much harder still.

And then, last week, I had this totally weird idea. What if Dropbox would simply replace your local file system. On all your digital devices? If the future is ‘always on’ and ‘always connected’ for every device, be it a mobile phone, a desktop computer, laptop, netbook, or tablet, then all those devices can synchronize their content using Dropbox, without having a local user filesystem at all!

You could remove the whole synchronization step by making Dropbox the only way in which a device that is ‘always connected’ when it is on can access files. The cost of the devices would go down (no more local storage required, other than for booting and cache), backing up would be as simple as saving any file (and that would back-up your contacts, your calendar, and so on, as well). Having a device stolen would no longer mean data loss and so on. A cross between Apple’s ‘mobile.me’, a regular filesystem and the current incarnation of Dropbox.

Apple tried to do something like this using iTunes and the iPad, but user reception was pretty bad, the whole thing was made far too complicated, and frankly, to me it looked as though it was just another reason to ram iTunes down peoples throats rather than to be a convenience for the user.

It wouldn’t be that hard to make a Dropbox centric device, either. All Dropbox would have to do would be to treat any locally available storage as a cache for speed and push everything instead of just the shared folder to the server and back. Basically, Dropbox would be your ‘home’ directory on the net, with access to all your files, from all your devices, rather than just a selected number of them.

Quite possibly there are people that have already migrated to using Dropbox as their ‘homedir’, only the change was so gradual that they never noticed.

Sooner or later, some manufacturer will clue in to the cost savings that are to be had here, economies of scale would mean remote storage should be significantly cheaper than local storage for a given quantity with a given reliability. Strike a deal with Dropbox to bundle an account with their device at some wholesale discounted price. I can picture the ‘Dropbox outside’ stickers already.