Will Dropbox Lure Business Users with New Enterprise Features?
Cloud syncing and sharing software company Dropbox launched a slew of new business-oriented productivity features in an effort to woo larger businesses, including an update to its official iOS app that enables users to quickly scan text-based documents and convert them into files, so it can identify and remember printed text.
"We are moving from products that keep your files in sync to products that keep your teams in sync," said Todd Jackson, Dropbox Vice President of Product and Design, at a launch event. He also described the main purpose of Dropbox's updated products as agnostic across platforms and devices, bringing communication directly to files with a simple design that encourages secure collaboration.
Dropbox has been spending a big deal of time on just observing peoples work in an effort to get a glimpse into their workflows and assess what is working for them whiles what isn’t, and what Dropbox can do to make their experience more robust.
From a business perspective, the company's goal is to expand from file-syncing and sharing into the far larger market of cloud-based collaboration, so they could add more paying customers. According to the company’s latest figures, Dropbox has approximately 500 million users, however, only 150,000 businesses and organizations are paying for the upgraded version, Dropbox Pro.
"With half a billion users doing work in Dropbox, we've learned a lot about how complicated it can be to get things done," Todd Jackson wrote on the Dropbox blog. "You've told us you need to work from everywhere, collaborate with lots of people, and use a bunch of specialized tools to bring your ideas to life. We want to make that easier—whether you work on your own, with a small team, or as part of a big company. That's why we're introducing new productivity tools to simplify, unify, and secure your work."
Cristen Torrey, Head of Design Research at Dropbox, also shed some light on their research done before designing and launching a handful of new tools:
"People have more ways than ever to create and capture information. We’ve seen the hoops that people jump through just to do something as simple as turn a piece of paper, like a receipt or owner’s manual, into something that they can archive and share."
"For us, clicking the share button isn’t our metric for success," she added. "We’re tracking things like whether people understood their options, and whether people are confident that they did the right thing. By giving people the right choices, we think we can give the foundation for more stable and more secure collaboration. People don’t really just want to be more productive. They want their tools to get out of their way, so they can do more amazing, thoughtful, and creative work."
File sync-and-share has always been Dropbox's main bread and butter. However, Dropbox faces competition from both its startup encounters and legacy tech vendors, so the company aims to gain a leadership position in the cloud file sync and share market which was estimated to generate $1.95 billion in revenue last year, according to researcher IDC, allocated among companies like Dropbox, Microsoft and Box Inc. as well as Apple Inc. and Google. Jackson stated Dropbox is keen to directly address the broader market for cloud collaboration services and Internet-based software, as he believes is more like tens of billions in sales annually.
Dropbox Product Manager Matt Pan also said: "We are really focused on simplifying how people work together. When you look at Dropbox from the beginning, it's been about how people share and access content. The next phase is productivity and collaboration on top of file sync and share."
The ability to create Microsoft Office documents directly from the app with a giant, shiny, central "plus" button is one of the most notable updates. This button allows users to create new Office documents such as Excel or PowerPoint on your phone, or to scan a document such as a blueprint, receipt, sketch, printout, post-it or a whiteboard. Although there similar offerings such as Evernote Scannable and CamScanner for both IOS and Android are available in the market, differently, Dropbox enables users to search text and keywords within these scanned documents thanks to optical character recognition (OCR). It means that handwritten meeting notes can be converted into a high-resolution PDF by also becoming a searchable document.
“We all still love using analog tools, writing on white boards and using sticky notes and printed pieces of paper,” Todd Jackson said. “We want to take analog info, help get users into Dropbox, and make it more searchable and accessible.”
These tools can only be utilized through the Dropbox app on iOS. However, the company confirmed that these updates will be available for Google Android, without specifying a firm timeline.
Manual photo uploading is also changing with an upgrade when users automatically upload all their photos to Dropbox, their Basic account can quickly run out of space. With the new update, once connected to a Dropbox account on a computer, users can easily transfer photos and organize them on a computer so they don’t run out of space in their Dropbox.
The Dropbox apps for Mac and Windows now lets users share right from their desktop, without redirecting to the web, or copying a link to email, when they right-click on a file or folder in their Mac Finder or Windows Explorer. That means users can set granular permissions for sharing documents without having to use the Dropbox web interface. In addition, Dropbox’s free tier users will be able to share folders in read-only mode which was, formerly, only available to paying customers.
Todd Jackson says: "3.3 billion sharing connections exist in the system. So everything we can do to make sharing more seamless for users is a really, really big win."
One of the most beneficial updates is the commenting feature which will let users highlight a piece of text or image in a file and comment on it, similar to how users could comment on a Google Drive document. Unfortunately, this doesn't work on videos. In the future, Dropbox plans to add the ability to see and make comments directly from the Dropbox “badge” which means users can comment while they’re working.
Another important new feature, which is still in preview, is called "presence." It allows users to monitor who is currently looking at a file as well as who has viewed it in the past and how many times it has been viewed overall.
Dropbox has also come out with a more secure means, espically large businesses. With the new update, Dropbox is letting people, who share sensitive documents with colleagues, send out invitations to specific recipients that allow them to access files, while other people can only access the files by logging into Dropbox, rather than creating a shared link that people can easily forward around.
Jackson notes that all this is only the beginning of what Dropbox has in the business world: "You’ll see more coming soon."
Dropbox Isn’t Profitable
The updates came a week after Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Drew Houston unveiled at the Bloomberg Technology Conference that Dropbox isn’t profitable yet but is operating free-cash-flow positive. It’s a favorable sign especially for a company which hasn’t been much for announcing new shipping features over the past year.
On the other hand, in last year, Dropbox has encountered questions regarding its valuation, which reached $10 billion U.S in a 2014 funding round, as many investors wrote down the value of their holdings in the company. Therefore, the organization has been cutting costs and focusing on adding more business customers through additional productivity and security features.
Overall, these new features seem to work in terms of making the user experience more robust as well as more enterprise friendly. As its VP emphasized, the company is not done changing yet, so it’ll be intriguing to see what comes next and if they will help Dropbox expand from file-syncing and sharing into the far larger market of cloud-based collaboration.