Dropbox adds new tools to make syncing smarter

The features are aimed at reducing friction both for developers and end users

Dropbox is adding a suite of features to its file-hosting services to provide more syncing tools for app developers and make it easier for end users to access their data across devices.

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston lays out the company's new tools aimed at making syncing easier across devices.
Dropbox CEO Drew Houston lays out the company's new tools aimed at making syncing easier across devices.

The changes, which were announced Tuesday during Dropbox's first-ever developers conference in San Francisco, are designed to address numerous data syncing challenges that are increasingly common as people divide their time between desktop PCs, smartphones and tablets, said Dropbox CEO Drew Houston.

"We have all these companies making amazing stuff, but they're punching each other in the face," he said. "What ends up happening is you get trapped in each of these platforms," Houston said in front of an audience of several hundred developers and also members of the press. Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose company builds apps integrated into Dropbox, was in attendance.

"Today is about giving developers better tools to build better applications," Houston said during a meeting with the press following the company's main announcements.

Usage of Dropbox, which was founded in 2007, has grown aggressively in recent months. The company claims to currently have over 175 million users, up from about 100 million users last November. Currently there are over 100,000 apps integrated into Dropbox's platform and built by a wide range of technology companies such as Facebook, Yahoo, Hewlett-Packard, Careerbuilder, HTC, Philips, Monster and Vimeo.

The company's file hosting services let people access their documents, videos, photos and other files across multiple computers, smartphones and tablets. The features announced Tuesday are designed to improve those capabilities and also add some entirely new syncing tools.

There are three new services aimed at developers that Dropbox is rolling out either today or in the near feature: Sync API, which is meant to simplify the code-writing process to let apps communicate more easily across devices; Drop-Ins, a tool to let end users access files that may have been created within an app on another device; and Datastore API, which will let users access not files themselves but the content created within apps on other devices.

The Drop-In tool, for instance, lets developers create what Dropbox calls a "Saver" button that can be placed on a website to quickly upload files to someone's Dropbox account. If someone is browsing online, sees an ebook and downloads it to a PC, the button would let the user also save it to Dropbox so it can be accessed on, for example, a smartphone. "It's a save button for a post-PC world," Houston said. The mobile Web version of that tool is available today; native versions will be arriving later this year.

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston takes the stage at the company's first developers conference in San Francisco.
Dropbox CEO Drew Houston takes the stage at the company's first developers conference in San Francisco.

But Datastore API might be the most significant new feature, Houston said. "Syncing is the main thing that we do, and now we're extending it to every other kind of information," he explained.

For example, the tasks compiled in to-do apps, or user preferences, or the latest level reached in a game of Angry Birds, "is really simple stuff, but it's hard to keep it in sync" across devices, Houston said. Datastore API, he explained, is Dropbox's "first step in a whole new way of building a seamless app experience across platforms."

To demo how the tool would work for end users, Dave McDowell, senior director of product management at Yahoo, showed how people could click a new save button built into Yahoo mail that can upload, for example, an email attachment to a Dropbox account to be shared with someone else. Yahoo partnered with Dropbox several months ago to make it easier for users to store and share files, McDowell said.

The tool could also be used, for instance, to sync between multiple devices an image created in a drawing app. So a digital artist would be able to draw, for example, the head of an animal in the app on a desktop, and continue from where he or she left off on a tablet computer.

Other rival cloud storage service providers include Google Drive, Box and Amazon S3, but Dropbox's new features could constitute the first of many expansions for the company as it grows. "We're on the path to becoming the most important home for people's stuff," Houston said.

Over 1 billion files are saved in Dropbox every day, according to the company.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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