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7/9/2013
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Dropbox Expands Its Reach

With the Dropbox Datastore API, developers can sync structured data not normally accessible for file synchronization. Dropbox is clouding the distinction between app, device and OS.

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For home buyers, it's said, three things matter most: location, location and location. This oversimplification of real estate valuation holds true for computer file systems too: It matters where files reside. Developers still have to specify file paths in their code to make file data accessible, to say nothing about the effect of distance on responsiveness when accessing a file over a network.

But the cloud computing metaphor argues for a world where location doesn't matter, at least as far as the consumer is concerned. File data simply exists somewhere in the cloud, to be accessed at the user's convenience.

Dropbox embraced this concept six years ago because it made sense from both a practical and a business perspective. Since then, the company has grown to 175 million users syncing more than 1 billion files daily.

In San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, at DBX, its first developer conference, Dropbox added a new Datastore API to its Dropbox Platform, to enable developers to sync more varied kinds of data across devices and platforms.

[ What happens when two of the hottest tech products join forces? Read Google Glass Meets Tesla Model S. ]

A follow-up to February's Sync API, which made it possible to sync files across multiple devices and platforms, the Datastore API provides support for syncing structured data, like contacts, to-do items and game state. Dropbox, in its FAQs, says the Datastore API is necessary because "apps need to store and sync more than just files."

In fact, such data exists in files, but those files are not normally exposed to end users. By providing developers with a way to make such structured data available across devices and apps, Dropbox is clouding the distinction between apps, devices and operating systems.

"When you use an app built with datastores your data will be up-to-date across all devices whether you're online or offline," Dropbox co-founders Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi wrote in a blog post.

Dropbox also introduced Chooser for iOS and Android, a UI component that provides easy access to Dropbox files, and Saver, a UI component for saving files to Dropbox from the Web and mobile websites.

The major platform companies -- Apple, Google and Microsoft -- would prefer that their customers use their own storage services. So it is that Apple offers iCloud, Google offers Google Drive and Microsoft offers SkyDrive, each of which has its own APIs for integration with third-party apps.

Dropbox is likely to face an uphill battle convincing mobile game developers to rely on its Datastore API rather than APIs for Apple Game Center or Google Play Services, both of which support game state saving as well as other game-oriented functions.

Dropbox last year was the performance leader among three other competing services -- Box, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive -- according to a Pingdom survey. But this year, it came in second (708 ms) in an overall speed comparison, behind Google Drive (549 ms).

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