Why iCloud can't ever be as good as Dropbox
John Gruber has a blurb on DF today about how Apple should buy Dropbox, in part because iCloud sucks major asshole and Dropbox is OK (to paraphrase).
That second bit, at least, is accurate, and even if iCloud is someday engineered to synchronize files more quickly, easily, and reliably than Dropbox, it will still always be fundamentally worse than Dropbox. That is because iCloud comes with an intrinsic show-stopping, shit-splattering, critical flaw: vendor lock-in.
There are a lot of good things about Apple's integrated-hardware-and-software way of doing things. It is a key reason that they've consistently made the best PCs in the world for almost a decade now, and also the least-shitty overall smartphone OS yet developed.
But, of course, this approach isn't optimal for every possible goal. Competing with a product like Dropbox is something that Apple is fundamentally disincentivized to do, and consequently sucks at (cf. every online service and every cross-platform app that Apple has ever produced).
Dropbox is awesome because -- even with some fairly glaring flaws (sporadically abysmal performance, data duplication/corruption on platforms that have symlinks) -- it provides this awesome cloud filesystem that works across all kinds of devices and platforms. I can create a document on my Dell XPS notebook running Ubuttnu 12.4, edit it on my toilet using my iPad, then later email it to somebody from my Nexus 7, incorporate their feedback while on the train with my iPhone, and then open it on my Mac Pro when I get to work. Oh, and if I had to boot Windows 8 for some reason, the document would be there, too.
iCloud will never work well on other platforms. I'd love to be proven wrong about that, but I'm not wrong, so I won't. Furthermore, iCloud doesn't even fully work on Apple's own OS X platform -- it only works for apps that submit to the fairly onerous financial terms and severe technical limitations dictated by Apple's app store.
Apple wants their awesome features to be available exclusively on their platforms, and exclusively on their terms. That innate characteristic of Apple completely prevents them from making certain kinds of awesome in the first place. Like the Dropbox kind.
There's nothing necessarily wrong with that; it's just the difference between a platform vendor wanting a feature, and a software vendor trying to reach a larger audience. But, for this kind of idea at least, one approach produces something a lot more useful and interesting than the other.
So if Apple were to buy Dropbox, that might help Apple, but it would be bad for the world, and a fucking disaster for Dropbox users. Gruber frets that Dropbox might get acquired by Google, Microsoft, Amazon, or Facebook. But as a daily Dropbox user, I'd be more concerned for its future if it were acquired by Apple than any of the first three of those companies. Dropbox is the kind of product that Apple just wouldn't be able to restrain itself from fucking up.
: Steve Jobs was completely wrong (or perhaps more likely, lying) about Dropbox being a 'feature' instead of a product. It is exactly because it is not a feature of one device or OS that makes it really cool, and life-changing for a lot of people (like the guy Gruber is linking to in the piece above)
: Of course, if Facebook bought Dropbox I would just cancel my account and switch to Google Drive or something.