Why Apple Shouldn’t Buy DropBox

Posted on December 17, 2012

John Gruber suggested on daringfireball that Apple should buy DropBox because that is what everyone is using to get documents from their iPads to their computers. What John has caught on to, is that there is a problem with the document transfer process in place, and I will be the first one to agree with him on this point.

However, Apple has taken a decision to abstract away the filesystem in iOS. On the Mac, in OS X, the filesystem is still very much in evidence and is the principle way of accessing files. Yet, I do believe that Apple would eventually like to abstract the filesystem on OS X as well, pretty much in the same way that they have introduced sandboxing.

iCloud was introduced to tie together applications across different platforms. So if you want to transfer a file between your iPad and your Mac, you can. Here’s how it works. If you create a file on your iPad, it is synced onto iCloud automatically, and then you can open it with the same application on your Mac.

iCloud’s Model is Not Meeting User Needs

Despite the implementation of iCloud, many people are choosing to continue to use Dropbox as a syncing system. Why is this? Why is iCloud not meeting users’ needs?

I’m not sure I fully have the answers to that question. iCloud is great when sharing data between iOS applications. As a backend syncing system, it’s really good. Where I assume it seems to fall down is in the sharing of data between iOS devices and OS X.

One potential reason for this is that people are using different applications on different devices. While they are using Byword on the iPad, they might be using BBEdit on the Mac. In this scenario, which I expect is all too common, iCloud is clearly broken.

Should Apple Buy DropBox?

DropBox’s file-sync model is clearly not going in the direction that Apple wants to go and in which Apple sees the future. One thing is clear with Apple, when they have a vision, they take the time to see it implemented. Are they really wrong that the filesystem is not the best way to manage documents?

Also, because DropBox works over so many different devices and platforms, it would not be a great fit for Apple. They don’t want to support solutions in competing ecosystems unless it enables a core Apple service, for example iTunes enable iPhones and iPods to be managed from a PC.

If Apple thought DropBox was the best solution, can’t they just make their own? Probably.

What Should Apple Do?

If we agree that the big problem with iCloud is that documents cannot be easily shared between applications, why not make it so that they can be? If you are in BBEdit on your Mac, why not make iCloud documents from other applications available to it?

In that way, documents can still be managed in an application-centric way, the file-system is still largely abstracted from the user, yet documents can be shared between applications.

Clearly, iCloud is not gaining the traction it should be and Apple should adapt the product to address its perceived and actual failings.

What do you think Apple should do with iCloud