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The promise and perils of replacing your hard drive with Dropbox

Jared Newman | July 15, 2013
Dropbox CEO Drew Houston talked a big game this week when he announced new ways for apps to save and load user data.

Dropbox also announced a tool called Drop-ins, which allows app users to save and load their files directly to Dropbox. Whereas Datastore deals with app data, Drop-ins deal with documents, photos, and other files that users might want to access directly, letting you both save and access Dropbox-stored files in-app. Developers can add Drop-ins with just a few lines of code, providing a complete interface for browsing the Dropbox file system.

Again, the idea behind a Drop-in is to reduce friction for users. If developers add "choose from" and "save to" buttons to their apps, users may be encouraged to save more files online, making those files available on any other device.

More to think about
The seamless availability that Dropbox promises does sound enticing, but it also comes with its own drawbacks.

Of course, there are the obvious concerns, like privacy, security, and reliability. Dropbox has been hacked before, and even accidentally turned off authentication for millions of users in 2011. The service hasn't been immune to service outages either. And given all that we've learned about the NSA and Prism, it's clear that users can no longer expect complete privacy with their online data. The more data we put online, the more vulnerable we are.

But these concerns existed even before the announcement of Dropbox Platform. Anyone who's deeply worried about the security and privacy of cloud storage probably won't find much allure in Dropbox to begin with, let alone the additional features that Dropbox Platform will bring.

The bigger potential pitfall with letting Dropbox "replace the hard drive" is the headache it could create when you run out of storage.

Dropbox has no intention of charging app developers for Dropbox Platform. The company's business model is the same as it was before: Encourage people to store more data online, so they eventually graduate from free accounts to paid ones.

The problem is that cloud storage is a recurring cost. With Dropbox plans starting at $100 per year for 100GB--roughly the same price as a 1TB external hard drive--the jump to a premium plan can really sting. That's not to mention the added potential cost of mobile data, as you upload more files and exceed your bandwidth cap.

In fairness, Datastore isn't likely to be a major drain on users' storage allotments. For apps that use it, Dropbox is providing 5MB of save data that doesn't count against the user. According to Jon Peppers at Hitcents, that's a pretty generous amount for most apps.

But what happens when apps start making it easier to load up your Dropbox storage with all kinds of files, from documents to photos and video? Will users make the leap to paid storage or offload their files to another location, such as another cloud service or a good old-fashioned hard drive?


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