Written by Steve Ross
In February 2013, a free-to-use email management application called Mailbox shot up Apple’s iOS App Store’s ranks – becoming the store’s second most downloaded app on the day of its release. Barely a month later, cloud-based file hosting giant, Dropbox acquired the app for $100 million – in a move which is still sending ripples across the cloud storage landscape.
The buzz around Mailbox was helped by the head of pre-release steam it built up for weeks, by filtering users through a queue which delivered tantalising progress updates: “There are 354,523 people in front of you…” The hype did, however, reflect real consumer interest in Mailbox’s capabilities and pointed to its greater potential in a perpetually-connected professional world.
Mailbox was designed to transform the way we browse and integrate email with our professional lives – the app’s masterstroke was the introduction of a swipe-based sorting and filtering capability to let users reduce inbox clutter more efficiently than ever. Under the ownership of Dropbox, Mailbox recently upped the ante further with the release of the long-awaited Android version of the app and an announcement of a Mac desktop beta.
Believing the Hype
Dropbox’s enthusiasm for Mailbox is interesting for a number of reasons – not least that Dropbox has, up until recently, been pitched to users as a cloud file-storage facility, not as a real-time email management service. The idea that Dropbox is moving to reposition itself by integrating Mailbox’s features, hints at a wider strategy, which could see the company venturing across battle-lines.
Dropbox has been gaining momentum in this direction for some time: after staking a bold claim to cloud-storage territory, in recent years the company upgraded – to offer users a flexible, sophisticated file synchronisation tool accessible across a wide variety of platforms. A recent and dramatic enhancement to the Dropbox For Business service offered business users more control and visibility of their company files, while making the service much for attractive to IT departments.
Mailbox’s rapid rise to prominence – and ultimate acquisition – echoes Dropbox’s own past: the story goes that Steve Jobs once described the product as a mere ‘feature’ before trying to buy the company for a fortune. Dropbox declined – and went on to forge their own path in the brave new world of cloud storage.
Strengthening their Hands
In hindsight, Dropbox’s confidence in its own destiny makes the Mailbox acquisition all the more intriguing. The continuing development of Mailbox, alongside efforts to strengthen its business service (including moves onto Mac and Android), puts Dropbox firmly in the wider cloud game – with a growing portfolio of capabilities, like document preview, new organisational tools for photographs and an auto-upload feature for cameras.
But the cloud storage universe is getting crowded. With Google Apps, Office 365 and iCloud already fighting for space and attention, it looks like Dropbox might be readying for a fight. Indeed, in Dropbox’s first foray into email, Mailbox subsumes services like Gmail by sitting ‘on top’ of existing interfaces to – hopefully – enhance user interaction.
In every corner of the industry, cloud-based tech companies are strengthening their hands: storage and file sharing service, Box.net, recently landed a huge deal with General Electric, with the tech giants rolling out Box’s service to its 300,000 employees worldwide. Is Dropbox banking on innovative, eye-catching features like Mailbox, to give it a vital edge over its competitors?
Battle for the Clouds
The battle lines of the cloud-based storage war are only just being drawn, but by incorporating Mailbox, Dropbox has made a clear statement of intent – and may have set itself on a path of direct competition with heavyweights like Microsoft, Google and Apple.
While the struggle for control of the clouds is just getting started – the level of competition and innovation already on show promises an ultimate victory for customers. The move to the cloud has always been about choice – offering users greater versatility and control over where and how they interact with their files. More choice in features, services and capabilities means a richer, more vibrant marketplace – and a better cloud experience for everyone.