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MWC: Dropbox CEO criticises Apple cloud lock-in

Houston said that self-interested thinking is stifling progress

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Dropbox CEO Drew Houston has warned against buying into cloud services offered by mobile device manufacturers and network operators, claiming that consumers and businesses can easily become locked in.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Houston said there is a common pattern of thinking, whereby companies that build phones or networks believe that they can also build a cloud service and bolt it on to their existing offerings.

“The question is not so much can you do that as is it worth the effort? We save more than one billion files a day and connect half a billion devices, so if you think of the air traffic control of that, the margin for error here is pretty low,” said Houston.

“You talk about a billion files – that's more than there are tweets on Twitter. And it's not 140-character snippets, this is your wedding photos and your tax returns and your work stuff; it's the most important information that you have. Doing that at scale, doing it reliably, doing it securely is really challenging.”

He indicated current examples of proprietary cloud services that impose “bizarre limitations” on what users can do, such as the fact that anyone that owns an Apple iPad and an Android phone cannot easily share music and files between the two devices using the iCloud. 

“There will never be an engineer in the Apple cafeteria who's like, hey I made the Android version of iCloud,” he said.

It is this kind of self-interested thinking that is stifling progress, said Houston, adding that companies operating in this space need to come up with better ways of working together.

“You shouldn't have to care about the logo on the back of your phone or computer, it should just work with everything you have. That's the kind of limitation we want to help remove for people.” 

He pointed to Dropbox's partnership with Samsung, which has resulted in all Samsung devices coming pre-installed with a Dropbox client for instant backup of photos and other files.

“In the early days it was a little challenging because they had built their own cloud services and they had the same concerns that, if Dropbox was built for any platform, how would they differentiate?” said Houston. 

“But then they launched it and people love it. The way they differentiate is by building Dropbox into all these core experiences on the phone, so making this a really seamless and integrated experience.” 

Houston's keynote echoed some of the assertions put forward by Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth at MWC, who pointed to the need for greater convergence between mobile platforms to enable better interoperability between devices.

“We think it will become true of all platforms that, in future, you won't have embedded Windows and Windows RT and Windows on a desktop and Windows on a server; you'll essentially just have Windows,” said Shuttleworth.

“Apple and Google will take their platforms and converge them as well because, from a security point of view, being able to audit and manage a platform that is widely used on all of your devices is a vastly better proposition than having fragmentation across the device landscape.”


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Robert Kegel said: I have to agree with you 100 but apple does this all the time While most other products use micro USB for charging they use something different Im surprised they havent done this with mice and keyboards to make it so if you have an apple product your stuck with their equipment Im surprised they havent come out with their own bluetooth encryption and charge bluetooth manufacturers extra if they want to make a bluetooth headset work on the iphone They made their own maps Im waiting for them to make their own search engine and some how lock apple people into using it apple is the compuserveAOL of tech they want to keep everyone that uses apple in apple like compuserve and AOL wanted to keep their users off the web and in their little walled garden

Ken Berger said: I love Dropbox and have adopted it for my new company but it has not improved in any meaningful way in a long time The photo syncing and Android support dont mater to their customer base and only signal they are moving in the wrong direction They need a stronger Mac client integration with time machine type version control and their web interface which is required for many functions is lame The ability to share sub-folders of a shared folder to different groups is a glaring problemDrew needs to stop trying to be iCloud and keep moving forward otherwise someone will run over them

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