I am a big believer in cloud storage services like Box and Dropbox. In fact, for over a year and half now, I’ve had pretty much all of my data in the cloud. That move was triggered by 3 things :
(1) increasing number of devices I use (at last count, a tablet, 2 phones and a computer)
(2) collaboration with other folks & my team, mostly around documents
(3) a desire for simplicity - not wanting to deal with my files scattered in multiple places and keeping track of where the master copy was, while trying to achieve (1) and (2). The less I worry about the mechanics of data storage, the more efficient I am as I can get the technology to disappear.
Side note - growing storage capacity is a plus, but not a driving factor. Although, having all my data everywhere I go is an added benefit; much better compared to the solution I used back in undergrad days - carrying around a 10GB internal hard disk to avoid having to deal with perpetually-unstable floppies, and write-once CD’s! Yes, I do have some underpinnings of a computer geek.
The ‘App’ based approach
Most of these cloud services have taken an “app” based approach on integrating with devices. It works something like this:
- You download an App (on mobile or desktop)
- the App gives you access to your cloud data, and allows you to download/upload files
- On desktops, the App will typically run in the background and keep your files synch’d with the cloud and you access them as you would any other local file
- On mobile devices, the App (or embeddable SDK) allows 3rd party apps (like a Mobile Office suite, for instance) to access & manipulate the files stored in the cloud.
Why do we need an integrated approach ?
While this has been a quick and easy way to get into the market, I believe that mass-market adoption and the next inflection will come with an improved user experience.
Here are the major challenges I face when dealing with cloud storage services -
- Collaborating with others, I still end up with some files scattered across different cloud services. Plus, I use different apps to access and edit them.
- Hence, I have to deal with providing almost every app my cloud storage credentials and dealing with their crappy user interface to pick files.
- And when I’m done editing them, I have to remember to save them back in the exact same location where I ‘copied’ them from.
An ‘integrated’ approach is one way to improve the experience.
What does an integrated approach look like ?
So, how should it be ? Ideally, the integrated cloud storage UX looks something like this, with the OS (mobile and desktop) providing cloud storage as an extension of the file system.
- Integrated Credentials: I dont want to provide my Dropbox or Box credentials every time I use a new App. I want to provide it once, to the OS, and then give Apps “permissions” to access my files as I use them.
- Integrated File picker: I should be able to launch any App and be presented with a consistent User interface to access and deal with files. Across cloud storage services. With search capabilities.
- Integrated File sync: Don’t make me save the file back to a specific cloud service. When an App saves a document, it gets automatically synch’d to the cloud and available on all other devices. Without me having do anything else.
As an example, iCloud integration on Mac OS & IOS is a good first step. Now it just needs to be followed up by allowing for 3rd party cloud sync service integrations. Do it the same way Facebook and Twitter are now integrated into the OS. Extend the iCloud file picker to include files from other 3rd party services, and give me a way to search for them.
Who should be doing it ?
One might argue that this can be pulled off by cloud storage providers themselves or aggregators like Filepicker.io. Maybe. I believe it depends on the platform, because that’s where things come together.
On mobile and desktops, that platform is the OS. And there, the biggest impact & reach happens when Apple or Google or Microsoft do it, because
(1) they can drive a better UX because of what they can do under the hood, and
(2) they’ll do it for free.
Plus, it’s in their best interests. Dealing with files is one of the most common tasks when working with computers, big or small. Make it a pleasure, and technology disappears, but you get to continue playing the game. Make it a pain, and the guy who does it right, gets ahead.
The wild-wild-web is a wild card. The lack of a ‘platform’ implies that we continue to see implementations like the Dropbox-Asana integration. Dropbox, Box and probably others will (eventually) have reasonable although silo-ed implementations of an “integrated” approach. However, as much as they’d like me to just use one service (their’s), it’s not going to happen, and hence there’s a technology play in something like Filepicker. The question is, as a developer, would you pay for a service like that ?
What’s your take ?
On a related note, the general theme around well integrated 3rd party services applies to the Internet-of-things/Connected devices space as well, one that I expect to be writing and acting on a lot more in the days to come :).