Monday, June 2, 2014

Is iOS 8 really trying to "crush" DropBox and WhatsApp?

In a recent article on Wired, Marcus Wholsen apparently comes to the conclusion that the new features announced for iOS 8 are an attempt to "crush" or steal the territory of DropBox and other apps. He sums up Apple's attitude as:

"Don’t try having your own ideas and not play with us, because we will take them, we will do them better and we will crush you in the process."

before going on to write:

"The new iCloud Drive for file-sharing and syncing takes direct aim at Dropbox, which Steve Jobs famously wanted to buy. Even the new iCloud photo features are an open assault on Dropbox’s new app Carousel for uploading and storing pictures"

in addition to effectively describing the new features for Messages as an attack on WhatsApp.

I must admit that I find such conclusions slightly surprising. Or at least, I see the new features in a different light.

As I see things, Apple is not simply trying to steal territory from DropBox. Rather, they are creating a more level playing field. Moreover, they're creating a more homogenous playing field that is closer to what users want and expect on a device nowadays. Via the new Extensions API, they are making it easier for DropBox-- but also for any other cloud storage provider, including Apple themselves-- to become more integrated into a wide variety of apps (and indeed into the OS itself). Users that find it convenient to use DropBox will not only be free to go on using it, but will find it integrated into more  apps. Now that cloud storage is an everyday expectation rather than a novelty, a major issue with iOS as it stands is that certain applications tend to be coupled with storing documents in one particular storage provider. The new functionality in iOS8 promises to iron this out and make applications much more "storage agnostic".

It's true that the new features of the Message app are largely playing catchup to other messaging services such as WhatsApp. Features such as sharing one's location are now so basic that it's somewhat surprising that they weren't already included. (Actually, I hadn't even noticed that this feature wasn't-- I guess I just assumed it was there if ever I needed it.) However, I really wonder if the presence or lack of such a feature is what will switch people over from WhatsApp to iMessage rather than more fundamental things such as which messaging system one's friends and contacts are using...? WhatsApp is presumably free to go on adding innovations to its messaging system; meanwhile, Apple has now added to its system features that have become de facto standards.

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