Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston: We’d Love to Integrate With Google Docs

Dropbox this week expanded its platform tools, giving developers better hooks to sync files and application data across users’ devices.

Drew HoustonCEO Drew Houston poses his company as sort of a data Switzerland between other international platform players — Google, Apple and Microsoft — that frequently battle each other. However, in and around its own areas of overlap with those companies, Dropbox is less than compatible.

Just a couple of examples: Apple’s iOS has no default to save photos to Dropbox instead of iCloud. And Dropbox users can’t easily edit their files in Google Docs, over in the land of Google Drive. Given the popularity of those platforms, those are pretty big gaps.

But the Google relationship could change, based on comments Houston made in an interview after his Tuesday keynote at DBX, Dropbox’s first developer conference.

Houston was enthusiastic about direct integration with Google’s document-, spreadsheet- and presentation-editing tools. “That’s something we would love to do,” he said.

Sundar Pichai, who is Google’s head of Chrome, Android and Apps, had been similarly friendly in response to an audience question about Dropbox-Google Docs interoperability at the D11 conference about a month ago (unfortunately, I believe it’s not in the video we posted here due to an on-site power outage during that session).

Houston said he had been told about Pichai’s public comments.

“I heard similar things,” he said. “We don’t have anything to share on that front. But anywhere people are using something, we want to make that experience useful. We’re not religious about anything.”

A deal with Google would be a coup for Dropbox, which has 175 million registered users and has raised $257 million in funding from investors including Sequoia Capital, Accel Partners and Index Ventures. Right now, the company offers only very basic tools for helping users organize and view their files — nothing on the level of online collaboration and editing of Google Drive.

At the same time, working with Google might be a concession that Dropbox won’t compete on that very key functionality, which could be seen as a lessening of the closely watched company’s ambitions. It could make Dropbox a sort of dumb pipe for life.

Dropbox is clearly helped by better productivity support, given that its product is widely used in businesses and schools. CloudOn, the company that brings Microsoft Office documents to devices like the iPad, is already Dropbox’s single-largest independent developer partner, according to people at both CloudOn and Dropbox.

(CloudOn had one of just a few booths at DBX on Tuesday. However, the company isn’t immediately planning to integrate any of the new tools Dropbox announced, given that it already developed its own ways to choose and save files across devices, said co-founder and CEO Milind Gadekar.)

It’s worth noting that there are huge categories of potential announcements that Dropbox completely ignored at DBX.

There were no big company partnerships (save for a small expansion of a preexisting one with Yahoo, just bringing one feature to Yahoo Mail on Android). And no big improvements to Dropbox’s in-house user-facing tools (which, for instance, drastically need updating to help people search and access their stuff, as Houston readily agreed in our interview).

That openness, and even the lack of focus on productivity, was intentional, Houston said.

“I think what’s cool is developers can build awesome things down the road,” he said. “We didn’t proscribe anything. We didn’t say, here’s a set of partners, here’s a set of areas for you to develop.”

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus