Dropbox Buys Mailbox

Jessica E. Lessin, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

Dropbox is buying the owner of the buzzy Mailbox mobile app, making its first move into products outside its core file-sharing service.

Under the deal, the 13 employees of Mailbox owner Orchestra Inc.–including alums of Apple, Stanford University and Ideo–will join Dropbox. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Admittedly, I was initially surprised by this news. Mailbox, if you are unaware, is a free iOS Gmail app that offers a new way to process email. However, if you take a step back and frame the acquisition within the broader context of Dropbox’s activities, it makes sense.

Dropbox arguably already operates the most popular and trustworthy cloud-based system for document management and syncing. In 2012, Dropbox acquired both the music streaming app Audiogalaxy and photo cloud-storage company Snapjoy. Throw in today’s purchase of Mailbox, and Dropbox now has cloud-based documents, music, photos, and email.

Sound familiar? It’s eerily similar to the offerings provided by Google’s many services and Apple’s iCloud, but with one exception - decentralization. With Dropbox’s focus on a reliable and platform-agnostic service, users aren’t tied to a particular ecosystem. Dropbox isn’t there in full yet, but I think their vision is becoming clear.

Dropbox, a service that was once derided as a mere “feature” by Steve Jobs, is now building a robust company. Jobs was famous for saying one thing and meaning another. I imagine when he tried to downplay Dropbox back in 2009, he saw what was coming and he knew it could pose a problem to Apple.

The acquisition of a mobile mailbox app might seem like small peanuts. Make no mistake, it’s a big deal. Over the past few years, while services like Mobile Me and iCloud have struggled at providing a great cloud-based solution, Dropbox has quietly built brand trust through reliability. Companies like Apple should be worried.