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Dropbox Makes a Bid to Be "A Home for Life." (A What?)

"It's lifetimes of pain that we're solving, and that's what we're really about as a company."

You might have expected Dropbox to announce a massive price drop today in order to keep up with the online storage competition — where Google Drive has undercut it by charging less than a quarter of Dropbox’s yearly fee. Nope. Instead, Dropbox showed off a vision for a pretty, friendly family of services that work together on top of Dropbox.

Dropbox — which now has 275 million registered users, almost 700 employees and access to about a billion cumulative dollars in funding — occupies a kind of funny space between the world of apps and platforms. At a press launch in San Francisco today, the company offered a grab bag of announcements, including 1) opening up a beta to the public, 2) adding Android and desktop clients to an existing iOS app, 3) a sort of plugin for someone else’s software and 4) a new photo app.

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston
Dropbox CEO Drew Houston

The two biggies: Dropbox launched a slick new mobile app called Carousel that makes a user’s lifetime of photos accessible. And it’s also building on top of other people’s entrenched apps, with a new collaboration overlay for Dropbox users working on documents with Microsoft Office.

The company’s new vision is acutely vague. Dropbox is “a home for life,” declared co-founder and CEO Drew Houston.

Okay, but what does that mean? “Think of houses back in the day — you’d have one room for everything. Where you eat, where you sleep. Now, your kitchen is different from your living room is different from your bedroom. And that’s what’s happening with Dropbox,” Houston said.

“Some of these things we build, and some of these things other people build,” he continued. “But all of these things are part of this home, your life, your work — everything you care about all in one place. We’re moving from one app to a whole family of apps.”

Carousel, which is available for iOS and Android today, sucks in a user’s history of photos. It relies on cloud storage but it also presents a sort of scrollable life history that’s pretty to look at and simple to share, even in bulk. It has a lot in common with previous efforts to collect a user’s life online — like Facebook Timeline, or “Mad Men’s” famous (fictional) “Carousel” scene — but with a more private bent, and Dropbox’s quick syncing and storage on the back end.

Dropbox’s upcoming “Project Harmony” will overlay it on top of Microsoft Office.
Dropbox’s upcoming “Project Harmony” will overlay it on top of Microsoft Office.

Project Harmony is an overlay for Microsoft Office documents that allows collaborators to chat and sync versions, with Dropbox’s familiar yes-your-file-is-up-to-date green check mark appearing right on top of other people’s software. It’s a way for Dropbox to offer an alternative to Google Drive or Microsoft Office Online without building its own productivity apps in-house. Dropbox didn’t give a launch date for the feature or explain much about how it worked.

Also on tap were versions of the Mailbox email client for Android and desktop, which now includes “auto-swipe” features that guess what a user is likely to do with an email based on past experience. And Dropbox for Business, the company’s enterprise product, is now open to the public.

How does this all come together? “There’s just so much stuff,” said Houston. “It’s lifetimes of pain that we’re solving, and that’s what we’re really about as a company.”

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