Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) began this week, and while consumers hoping for hardware like the iWatch or an Apple-designed TV were left disappointed, there were enough software announcements to make certain areas of the technology industry intrigued, excited and almost certainly fearful. Companies in the cloud storage space were given the most to worry about, as Apple made a renewed bid to grab a share of the market.
iCloud Drive is the newest iteration of Apple’s cloud storage system. The service allows users to sync documents and data stored in iCloud-enabled apps across any device running OS X, iOS, and even Windows. The newest version of the storage service is designed to be more like Dropbox or Google Drive, allowing users to gain access to their files using a Finder window. Previously, iCloud was buried in a device’s System Preferences, which made the service more difficult to access and less intuitive. Apple enters the market with an aggressive pricing structure. Users can pay from $7.99/month for up to 50GB down to $.99/month for up to 20GB, and get the first 5GB free.
The Windows partnership was surprising considering Microsoft and Apple’s history as uncompromising rivals, and as Microsoft has its own cloud service, OneDrive. However, in the personal cloud storage space, it is Apple and Microsoft that have to catch up to upstart file-sharing companies like Box and Dropbox. Box, a cloud storage company with a multi-billion dollar valuation, boasts that over 90 percent of the Fortune 500 uses its product. However, where Box has focused on enterprise, Apple is, true to form, primarily chasing the individual user. In this space, it competes directly with Dropbox, which announced last month that it had topped 300 million users. That number represents 50 percent growth over the past six months.
This week’s unveiling of iCloud Drive is not the first time Apple has taken aim at Dropbox specifically. In 2009, Steve Jobs reportedly met with the company’s founder and CEO Drew Houston to discuss acquiring the company. Rumors suggested the offer was for $800 million, well below the company’s current $10 billion valuation. After Houston declined, Apple launched iCloud, a reinvention of its previous cloud computing service MobileMe. It was revealed at the 2011 WWDC.
Jobs was convinced that Apple would quickly crush Dropbox, something he considered to be a feature, and not a stand-alone product. As of July last year, iCloud claimed 320 million users, but that number is misleading considering iCloud comes pre-installed on Apple devices. In fact, many people who exclusively use Dropbox to remotely store their files do so while still having, and technically “using,” iCloud.
There is also Google Drive. In addition to being the cheapest option on the market (first 15GB free, $1.99/month for 100GB), Google Drive seamlessly integrates with a user’s broader Google account, which includes services like Gmail, Google+, Calendar, and Contacts. As of the beginning of this year, there were 120 million Google Drive users.
The incentives for enhancing Apple’s cloud service capabilities are clear. The more data a user stores with a particular service, the more committed they then are to using the company’s full suite of offerings (phones and computers in Apple’s case, search and email in Google’s). Stand-alone services like Dropbox, on the other hand, might not be able to offer seamless integration across services, but promise greater portability and privacy, not to mention a singular focus on cloud-based file sharing.
Ben Horowitz’s Opsware started the migration of personal and enterprise data into the cloud way back in 1999; fifteen years later, the contest continues – and Apple may have just entered for real this time.