Dropbox a key enabler of iPad productivity

Sections: Features, iDevice Apps, iPad, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Opinions and Editorials, Originals

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British graphic novelist, author, blogger, and iPad fan Warren Ellis answering a query about which iPad apps he’s found useful/productive cites the text editors Plaintext and iA Writer, Quickoffice for iPad, Bamboo Paper or Notes Plus for graphics, and “Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox. All the writing programs hook into Dropbox. It’s essential.”

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber quotes Ellis describing his process for writing using an iPad with Dropbox as a key enabler. Gruber observes that many people work on their iPads, and enjoy doing so, which is key to their growing popularity. A recurrent theme in nearly every single “how I write on the iPad” story he sees is Dropbox, which he maintains should be scary for Apple because: 1.) Dropbox is outside Apple’s control, and if not for Dropbox, many of these people would not be using their iPads as much as they are, and 2.) because Apple’s iCloud falls short of Dropbox.


I agree entirely. I’m using my iPad more and more for writing these days, and Dropbox makes it possible. Why not iCloud? Well, for me it’s a non-starter, because two of my four production machines are not supported. I still have two maxed-out, G4-upgraded Pismo PowerBooks in active service, running OS X 10.4 Tiger, and iCloud requires a minimum of OS X 10.7 Lion. Now, not many are still using Tiger for production work. I just like those old Pismos a lot, and as long as they can do what I need them to do…

However there is a large cohort of Mac users still running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, many of whom have no intention of upgrading anytime in the near future, and Apple has chosen to shut them out of iCloud.

On the other hand, third-party, OS platform agnostic Dropbox is enlightened enough to extend support for a minimum of OS X 10.4, which I deeply appreciate. Dropbox also supports iOS v4.3 or later, Windows back to Windows 2003, and Windows XP of course, Linux to Ubuntu 7.10+ and Fedora Core 9+, Android OS 2.1 (Eclair) or higher, BlackBerry OS 4.5 and up, and you can transfer and download files using the Dropbox website from any modern browser, so Dropbox has you covered.

Dropbox—founded in 2007 by then recent MIT graduates Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi as a Y Combinator startup company—now claims more than 100,000,000 users in over 200 countries who save one billion files to Dropbox every 24 hours.

PlainText Dropbox

In practical terms, I can compose something on my iPad and it will be automatically saved to Dropbox by any of several iOS text apps, such as the ones mentioned by Mr. Ellis. Then I can switch to my MacBook or one of the Pismos and the file I created or modified will be there, so I can pick up where I left off. Slick.

I’m not saying I would quit using the iPad for composing and editing if Dropbox were not available, but it would be a lot less convenient, and I almost certainly wouldn’t use it as much.

I do disagree with John Gruber when he suggests that Apple should buy Dropbox. They would almost certainly ruin it, possibly by swallowing it up in the iCloud. Apple does many things well, but their propensity for proprietary gatekeeping and lockdowns is not one of them.

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  • Greg

    I thought Documents to Go was the most essential app on the iPad until I started using Dropbox. There is no other app that even compares to how essential Dropbox is to my mobile workflow. It’s the central hub of everything that goes on within my productivity.