Dropbox, the fast-growing file-syncing and file-sharing service, on Wednesday announced new tools that could help the company become an indispensable ally to developers in an increasingly fragmented mobile ecosystem.
The growth of smartphones and tablets spawned a whole new app economy, as well as a vexing problem for app developers: how to make an app that’s running on one device, such as a game on an Android smartphone, and sync up with the same game running on every other device a person may use, from iPads to Linux laptops.
Dressed like a latter-day Steve Jobs in a tight black long-sleeve sweater, blue jeans, and white sneakers, Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston addressed a crowd of developers, reporters, and some tech royalty at the company’s first developer conference in San Francisco.
Houston explained the difficulties developers encounter when trying to make apps work together, saying there are “thousands of details” they must get right for it to work. “If it were easy, all of this stuff would just work,” he said. “We wouldn’t be talking about it.”
Houston introduced a new Dropbox platform, which includes a way for developers to easily allow their Android and iOS apps to sync with each other by having Dropbox do what it already does—sync and store data online—but with the structured bits of data modified within apps as you use them, rather than just for files like photos and Word documents. By doing this, it doesn’t matter what logo is on the back of your phone, Houston said, “it just works.”
“This is a first step in a whole new way of building apps where you can have this completely seamless experience across platforms,” he said.
While Dropbox is just one of many services in the cloud storage and file-syncing space, it may have the chops and the momentum to make this ambitious plan work. Since launching in late 2008, the service has grown tremendously—it reached 100 million users in November, and has added an additional 75 million since then. Each day, users save over a billion files to the service.
Tuesday’s event was not exactly flawless, though. After an attempt at a live demo failed, a video was played showing a simple drawing app in use on a Wacom tablet and an iPad.
As an image was drawn on the Wacom tablet, it would sync up almost immediately on the iPad.
It’s not just about helping developers out, though. If Dropbox can popularize its method of synchronizing data, we won’t just be storing pictures and PDF files in Dropbox; we’ll also be counting on it to keep our apps running smoothly—an increasingly big deal in a multi-platform world.