With the recent announcements made by the Dropbox team yesterday, I wonder if the file storage genius has lost its way a little. As a user of the service who has been paying for an account for 3-4 years, I've been a free evangelist since I started using it. I still am today.
But as the news hit , I started to wonder if Drew Houston and his team have started to shift their gaze as they've grown. And whether or not that's good news for the company and their customers.
Too much choice?
The primary cause for my thinking is the options that are now available. When I signed up for this service in 2009, there was one option. Just sign up. Your only choice was to use the free account with limited storage, or pay a monthly fee for a lot more storage. Today? My teammate Tim Swan summed it up well in our chat room yesterday:
Dropbox, Dropbox for business, Dropbox teams, Dropbox for personal and work... I'm getting awfully confused by Dropbox.
If a savvy designer who's been using the service for years feels this way, how will Joe User feel with all the options. Maybe some of the options are not targeted at Joe User, but if Drew Houston wants to compete with Apple as a digital hub for consumers, they'll have to focus on Joe and his kind.
Maybe it doesn't matter. As a happy user of the service, whose needs have been met by the original, simple option, I haven't paid a lot of attention to the newer options that have come available the past two years. But if I were to try to explain to someone the differences between Dropbox for Business and Dropbox for Teams, I'd be at a loss.
Perhaps that's not an issue at all. Certainly, people who've used Dropbox in a team environment have felt the pain points, which is the driving force behind these options being available. But, like a man in a grocery store looking for that one option his wife sent him for, I feel a small bit of pain at the number of choices Dropbox now offers.
Creating a separate app for viewing the photos you already store in your account is a no brainer for current users, simply giving them another way to view what's there (I love that icon). And it's a potential incentive for those free users, the ones on the 2GB plan, to sign up and pay and move all those photos to a backed up location.
But if you do not use Dropbox to store your photos, I wonder how Dropbox thinks this app will work. Of the three announcements they made yesterday, carousel was most focused on Joe User. The blog post from Drew yesterday was titled, A Home for Life, a clear indicator that the focus is on making the digital lives of the common American easier.
But what if you use Dropbox for work purposes? If you were to add your family photos to your Dropbox account, are they mixed in amongst photoshop comps and design assets for your website? Screenshots you made for that blog post? I guess this is where the Dropbox for Business option comes in handy, allowing you to use the service for both purposes, but with intermixing the two.
But that seems a tad complicated. Personally, I currently store my photo files in Dropbox as a part of iPhoto libraries. But I use Picturelife as a way to have another backup of those files, as well as a way to view the view photos themselves. Will Dropbox and Carousel make options like Picturelife redundant? Perhaps.
But I suspect that in time, many people will feel that mixing their file storage needs with their usage of consumable items (photos, movies, music) leaves a bad taste. This might be an example where two separate apps(services) might make more sense. Two options has the appearance of more complexity than one, but that can be an illusion when the one option requires complexity to attempt to meet multiple needs.
Mailbox for OS X
Last, they announced two additional versions of Mailbox. It's available now for Android, and a long anticipated version for OS X is in the works. If tackling file storage can be considered boring and un-sexy, email is the next logical thing to tackle. And a desktop version is the next step.
Email clients are easily interchangeable as most of us user services that sit behind the client, accessed via IMAP (do people still use POP3?). For this reason, I've been looking forward to trying Mailbox on my desktop.
Although mobile email usage is king of the hill, I personally do most of my email work on the desktop, simply using my phone for reading and some triaging. It'll be interesting to see if the features that made Mailbox popular will have the same effect on the desktop. Or, maybe the Mailbox team has some new ideas for the desktop.
As things currently stand, this utility application is the backbone of my computing setup and works like a charm. The changes yesterday can be a part of a larger focus; to be the hub of your computing setup. And if Dropbox has a vision to be a hub of all your computer usage, tackling file storage and email is a brilliant strategy.
But whenever I become uncertain of how the available options apply to me, I wonder about the overall focus or vision of the company behind them. But if there's a team other than Apple or Facebook that has my confidence, it's Dropbox. I have faith.