Box, Dropbox vie for developers' loyalties

Moving beyond online storage, Box and Dropbox offer tools and APIs to lure developers seeking an app ecosystem

Developers are becoming a critical battleground for rival online file storage providers Box and Dropbox, who want links to their services in applications.

Dropbox recently introduced its Dropbox Platform, with tools to build apps to access files and data from the Dropbox service. Box, meanwhile, also offers tools and APIs for developers, including a REST API to access functions and features such as loading and editing content. "We've been aggressively pursuing and building out an ecosystem [for developers] for a number of years now," says Chris Yeh, Box senior vice president.

Dropbox's latest developer accommodations include Datastore API, for storing and syncing app data, including content, settings and contacts, via simple databases. The company also offers its Sync API, for mobile apps to store and sync files with Dropbox. "The Sync API is everything we know about file sync packaged up in a way so that all you can use it," Dropbox CEO Drew Houston said at the company's recent developer conference in San Francisco.

Dropbox's developer outreach makes sense, according to analyst Frank Gillett of Forrester: "To me, what's really interesting about what Dropbox is doing is focusing on the pain of the developers as a way of increasing their market reach. If they can get the developers to support them, then they're embedded in many more apps."

The move to devices is driving the need for cloud-based file services. "The mobile device isn't going to have a big, fat hard drive like we have in our computer," notes Jesse Miller, CEO at, which offers file-sharing services that leverage both Box and Dropbox.  

Backlift provides a service for building Web apps atop Dropbox. "In our circumstance, we use Dropbox really heavily," Backlift founder Chris Traganos says. "We basically provide a services that sits on top of Dropbox and lets people deploy websites just by dropping files into their Dropbox [service]. So we are pretty heavy users of the Dropbox API."

Box and Dropbox will have competition from services such as Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Apple iCloud. While these companies have a lot of other activities on their plate besides cloud file storage, their market might can be expected to give pure-plays and Dropbox a run for their money.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.