Dropbox’s new strategy is to own your phone

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston wants to bring his company to your pocket.
Dropbox CEO Drew Houston wants to bring his company to your pocket.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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Cloud storage startup Dropbox was busy today. Not only did it upgrade services for businesses and announce a photo-sharing app called “Carousel,” but it also expanded the reach of Mailbox, an email app it purchased last year. All of this is an effort to transform itself from a simple file-sharing service into a constant companion on smartphones and tablets.

The overall strategy, called “Chapter 2,” is an admission that cloud storage is too crowded and competitive to be the company’s only business, despite Dropbox’s early lead and big user base. For example, Google charges a fraction of what Dropbox does for the same amount of storage.

Photo sharing and email are just the start, say Dropbox executives: They’re also planning to acquire and launch a slew of independent mobile apps in the next few months, reports Bloomberg Businessweek. Possibilities include apps that manage calendars, address books, to-do lists, and other productivity tools—all of these geared towards becoming ensconced in people’s mobile devices and gathering their private data.

“You should set up Dropbox on your device and that device should become yours—your contacts, your apps, and apps that talk to your data,” Dropbox engineering vice president Aditya Agarwal told Bloomberg Businessweek.

This all-out mobile onslaught will be familiar to anyone keeping an eye on Google, which counts Dropbox competitor Google Drive among its many apps. Google’s recent move to support integrated sign-in on Apple devices was another effort to solidfy a grasp on user data.

But that means Dropbox is moving into mobile data services that, if anything, are even more crowded than cloud storage. The company says its competitive edge comes from the fact that it’s already a vital tool used by companies to manage their information across the dozens of platforms their workers use (e.g. Windows desktops, iPhones).

In that, it has a point. Though Dropbox’s Chapter 2 is aimed at personalizing data access, its efforts at phone domination are really in the service of deepening its relationship with business customers. The idea, which has helped Dropbox grow its revenue without a big salesforce, is that consumers want to use the same services they already use at work to store data and files on. It hopes upgrades like separate business and personal accounts, remote wipe, account transfer, and audit logs will convince more companies to buy in.