What Apple Got Right With the iCloud Drive Strategy

This year at WWDC, Apple unveiled a new service called the iCloud Drive that will let users store and share documents in the cloud. The cloud has become so ubiquitous these days in any tech company, so much so that one can’t do business without some form of cloud storage/platform; thus transforming into a commodity with an end unto itself.

When it comes to zeroing in on the best consumer-based cloud services, things start to get tangled. Apple owns a device advantage: the company clearly wants its customers to use Apple-only devices and created the iCloud, allowing users to neatly sync all the Apple devices and products they own. With this year’s upgrade, the iCloud Drive features all the files inside Finder, thus simplifying file access on the Mac: they’re automatically synced and searchable.  iOS 8 naturally will include iCloud Drive functionality, which will support a single version of a document on all your Apple devices as well as (surprisingly) Windows machines. The iCloud strategy is a central part of Yosemite and iOS 8 photo tools; original and post edit versions are synced seamlessly with the iCloud offering.

Having got Apple’s story out of the way, let’s look at the competition. Dropbox, a cloud service that’s seemingly leading the consumer space right now, helps store and share all your content. With its open API, users can navigate easily through the interface to store and share their documents. While this has worked favorably for them so far, an expanding user base and talks of an impending IPO threatens market saturation in the face of top notch expectations from shareholders as well as customers.

Apples versus Oranges?

With competition from Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, all aiming at expanding their resource offerings beyond just data storage, while trying to keep costs low, commodity services like Dropbox and Box need to be on their feet in retaining customers and get their “stickiness factor” right.

For now, the two major pain points in consumer cloud storage are convenience and security. With an open API (Dropbox) and easy integration across devices (iCloud Drive), both services are convenient to use in their own ways; although iCloud may sit well with Mac users. When it comes to security, Apple may have an upper hand based on its track record.

If you’re an Apple device owner, chances are you’re likely to have an iCloud account by default. This is one key reason why you’ll probably never need Dropbox or any other cloud storage service ever again; and this is why Apple’s announcement is a direct hit. Dropbox is here for one single purpose: to enable cloud storage and file sharing; however, for Apple, cloud storage is an add-on feature in this year’s OS update.

Here’s why we can compare Apple with the rest of the oranges: If Apple can offer cloud storage and file sharing at the same prices, where’s Dropbox’s advantage? Apple could stand to even take a loss and offer its cloud for a lot less, leaving its users happy and get them to stick to the Apple ecosystem. This spells trouble for Dropbox – Apple may have just killed its IPO.

The Larger Picture

Apple’s aggressive iCloud offering coupled with the weight and import of the other announcements at this year’s annual event has sparked some experts to expect some greater things. How about syncing desktop shortcuts, peripheral devices, and perhaps even application preferences across devices? Some proponents have proposed a ‘continuous client’ for quite a few years now.

The solution will flow through from one of the builders of major operating systems such as Apple, Google or Microsoft who also have cloud storage and file syncing/sharing offering. A continuous client that captures and syncs the state of devices across different devices running different operating systems presents complex conceptual problems. While Dropbox is also very likely to be working on answers to this, the service is not in the right technical position to attain success – obtaining access to the deeper parts of the OS of different gadgets is easier when you have built the OS from the ground up.

There’s a lot going on in the computer’s OS and Dropbox is probably not best positioned to tackle these larger issues.