Watching competing technology companies and their product developments is sometimes like watching the arms race of the later part of last century. Despite having enough fire power to split our planet in two, The US and the USSR would compete to develop ever more powerful nukes, with no real expectation of usage, but simply because they could.

Box for Android - Browse FilesWitness the cloud sync/content management space where (disclosure – a previous client) and Dropbox watch each other like hawks, while all the time denying publicly that they compete at all. (and as an aside, one day I’ll write a book about technology company differentiative definitions – it’s almost like the automobile industry where a pinstripe decal down the side is the only real different between models).

Anyhow, I digress…

This morning is announcing an application for its product, built for Android devices and available from the Android marketplace. This (coincidentally?) follows a mere 24 hours after Dropbox announced an update to its Android app which was only released a month or two ago.browser

The interesting thing about this is that both companies (and just to say – I know and use their products well and they’re great) are so focused on some kind of Silicon Valley arms race, that they’ve kind of lost sight of the realities here. Yeah, yeah, I know mobile is huge, and Android is the mobile OS du jour but really? These companies are all about content management, how many people really want to review, or even worse edit a presentation or multi-page document on a small mobile device.

Call me old fashioned if you will, but I’m all about fitness for purpose. Big screens for big tasks, mobiles for lightweight email and (gosh horror) phone calls.

Anyway – both companies’ apps are beautiful and all and I’m sure a gazillion or so of us early adopters ill download them and get all excited about it. But it’s an arms race, and just remember how that turned out…alt

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • I’ve wondered the same thing myself, Ben. I would say that the vast majority of the files I keep in my Dropbox are NOT anything I would need to access from the mobile platform.

    At my workplace, we’ve talked about these services a lot recently. Some fans of both services here, and it’s never really ambiguous to end users that–as you say–they really ARE competitors. We’re in the business of accelerated file transfer, and although of course we have a business-related interest, it has struck us as quite notable that neither company is addressing the problem of TCP-based transfers in their offerings.

    Speaking as a consumer who happens to be ‘in the know’ due to my work environment (unlike the general public who probably aren’t aware of the problems with TCP for file transfer), I personally would be WAY more interested in whichever company adopted fast file transfer than whichever one has a stronger mobile play. For me, mobile could be a nice touch, but the desktop experience is the more important one.

  • While innovation may be driven by existing customer demand, the introduction of a new technology can often spur customer usage, and solve customer problems. Not all Android devices will remain the form factor of a phone (as not all iOS devices are. Read: iPad).

    Your “early adopter” use of mobile document management apps may assist these consumer cloud content app vendors to understand how the “majority” of customers may use their mobile apps. And perhaps even lead mid-market and enterprise content management vendors in a similar direction (with tools that support document workflow, records management, and deeper collaboration thrown in as well).


    • Daniel – fair comment, and I agree that we’ll see Android slate devices that will make this use case more logical.

      It’s the general trend of Valley focused companies to watch each other more than the marketplace that I was getting at… as cloud becomes more widespread, a more global view will become increasingly important…

      • Ben, I agree that feature wars are potentially destructive, particularly for younger vendors.

        I blame (partially with tongue in cheek):
        * check-list driven customers;
        * the self-serving PR / media conspiracy 😉

        P.S. I should mention that I am CEO of KnowledgeTree, a mid-market SaaS document management vendor.

  • I use Dropbox’s iPhone app to read PDFs – awkward usability (will be better when I get an iPad), but it fits in with the times I have to read (which is usually when I’m out and about, not sitting at my laptop). Not sure if I’m a typical use case, but there ya go.

  • Youv’e missed a fundamental factor Ben. The way competition is hotting up in the web 2.0 market, especially the business segment, oftentimes the feature upgrades are equally about keeping on top of mind (buzz, linkbacks, brand awareness, blog stories) than the feature itself. Every few months, you have to do something interesting, or, out of sight, out of mind, out of business…

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