Why I'm quitting Dropbox (and Dropbox is fine with that)
I don't know when I opened my Dropbox account. It was years ago – probably not long after it was founded in 2007. Since then I've been a fan of the way Dropbox makes saving files in the cloud – and sharing them – quick and easy. When it arrived, its camera uploads feature solved the problem of getting photos off my phone and somewhere secure – somewhere that wasn't locking me in to Apple, or any other hardware company's ecosystem.
It's a pricey service, sure, but I've always felt it was worth it for its ease of use and platform agnosticism. It didn't matter if I switched from Mac to PC or iPhone to Android. I didn't have to worry about backing up and moving my files. I could just wipe my old device and sign in to Dropbox on my new one.
But a recent blog post from Dropbox has convinced me that the service is no longer for me. And the thing is, I'm pretty sure Dropbox is fine with that. It doesn't really want me as a customer. It's not going to turn my money away, but I'm not its target market: I'm not a business.
The warning signs were there, it turns out. I'd somehow missed the company's mission statement to "unleash the world's creative energy by designing a more enlightened way of working."
Were I to add emphasis here it would be to the word working. And it's this focus on the workplace that Dropbox appears to have gone all in with so far as its newest features are concerned, which come with a price hike to match.
The company, which counts Condoleezza Rice among its Board of Directors, is billing these changes as the "new Dropbox," and sees a change in emphasis from mere file storage and sharing to being "a single workspace to organize your content, connect your tools, and bring everyone together, wherever you are."
If that sounds familiar, it's probably because you work in digital tech and use a workplace messaging service instead of internal email. Companies like Slack, and more recently Microsoft (with Teams) want their communications apps to be the platform of the digital workplace.
But where Teams and Slack want communication at the core, Dropbox thinks it's well placed to put files at the center of companies' digital workflows. It's not necessarily that companies will need to choose between Dropbox and a messaging service – it's that they'll have more options when it comes to digging into the ways they work to figure out what works best for them.
One example: Dropbox is going to let you "create, access, and share cloud content" from within Dropbox itself. What does that mean? Well, one example Dropbox highlights is that Microsoft Office files stored in Dropbox will be editable in either Office Online or via Google's web services. But regardless of where people choose to edit the file, the conversation about that work can happen in one place with Dropbox's own comments system.
Dropbox is also adding what it calls shortcuts, links to things online that can live alongside your relevant work in Dropbox. These might be links to a team to-do list on Trello, news articles, or, presumably, anything with a URL on the web.
It's also upgrading its search so that all your content, whether it's synced to your device's local storage or not, is findable, along with the aforementioned shortcuts. And it's also rolling out improved integrations with other digital services popular with business customer such as Slack, and video conferencing service Zoom.
Which all sounds great. If I'm working at a digital tech company and the CTO wants to roll this out, I'm all for it. But the thing is I only really use Dropbox to store photos. I'm only using about 100 GB of my 1 Terabyte of storage – which Dropbox has just bumped up to 2 Terabytes with a hike from US$9.99 per month to $11.99 per month.
Dropbox was already an expensive service that I wasn't getting massive value from. Luckily, I've realized I've always been kidding myself with the platform agnosticism thing – any time I switch away from Apple devices I rue the decision. Not because other devices and operating systems are objectively worse, but because I subjectively feel strongly that they're worse because I'm so used to Apple products.
So I'll probably switch to iCloud backup for my photos. I have to be honest – this fills me with a certain amount of dread. Like iTunes, iCloud has been a notable exception to the old "it just works" mantra, beloved of snooty Apple fans (whom I don't count myself among). I've always found it somewhat buggy with endless prompts to sign in. But Apple is sticking with $9.99 per month for 2 TB storage, while offering 200 GB – still more than my needs – for $2.99 per month. I've done the math. It wasn't hard.
Or perhaps I'll just put all those old photos on an old hard drive, or delete them altogether. All the ones I care about are already on personal blogs and I never look at the rest. I've been paying an overhead for the worry – the mental baggage – of thousands of photos that might be nice to have one day. Perhaps it's time to let go…