This Is Dropbox’s Latest Plan to Challenge Google, Microsoft, and Box

January 30, 2017, 9:31 PM UTC
Photograph by Getty Images

It’s getting harder to stand out in the crowded space of selling workplace software.

Dropbox has debuted new features intended to distinguish its online document storage service against several fierce competitors. The startup, which has a reported valuation of $10 billion, has been prioritizing developing new features for businesses—rather than consumers—over the last few years.

Although Dropbox is popular with consumers and counts 500 million users, many of those people use Dropbox’s service for free. It’s more financially lucrative for Dropbox to target businesses with paid versions of its software. But several companies like Microsoft (MSFT), Google (GOOG), Atlassian (TEAM), Box (BOX), and workplace chat-service Slack already offer competing services.

At a media event on Monday, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston said that the new features are part of Dropbox’s evolution from merely offering a way for companies to store documents on physical servers they don’t need to maintain.

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One of Dropbox’s new services, Smart Sync, makes it easier for teams within businesses to access their documents stored in Dropbox’s data centers without having to download every file to their computer or mobile device. Smart Sync is only available to a few Dropbox customers in a trial period until it debuts at large at an undetermined date.

Another service, Dropbox Paper, is intended to replace the common Microsoft Word file as the document of choice for workers to write notes, share business plans, and comment on each other’s financial spreadsheets. Dropbox Paper is now available to the general public.

Houston explained that when Dropbox was founded ten years ago, the company was focused on the idea that “life would be a lot better” if people didn’t have to carry cumbersome disc-and flash-drives to transport their files.

At the time, Dropbox’s notion of people saving their documents to outside data centers was seen as a radical idea. Amazon’s (AMZN) cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services, was only year old back when Dropbox first arrived. At that time, companies were still generally resistant to giving up control on where their documents were stored.

Today, however, AWS is now a multi-billion dollar business, and more companies are looking for ways to offload much of their basic computing needs to Amazon and other cloud computing companies like Microsoft and Google.

As Microsoft and Google have been concentrating on developing their cloud computing services, they have also been debuting improved work-productivity software that has made them more directly competitive with Dropbox’s once-distinguished service. Additionally, smaller companies like Atlassian and Slack have become popular in recent years with their own takes on workplace software, which has made it difficult for Dropbox to capture the attention like it once did in the past.

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Last week, Dropbox’s most direct competitor Box debuted a new digital note-taking service that is similar to Dropbox’s new Paper feature.

With more companies now competing with Dropbox for business customers, the startup may find it difficult to win new corporate customers.

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