Dropbox enhances its productivity tools across the board
New features include document scanning and improved sharing from the desktop
By Blair Hanley Frank
Dropbox just dumped a ton of new productivity features on users of its file storage and collaboration service that are all aimed at making it easier for people to get work done within its applications.
Updates to the Dropbox app for iOS allow users to scan documents directly into the cloud storage service, and get started with creating Microsoft Office files from that app as well. The company also increased the ease and security of sharing files through Dropbox, and made it easier to preview and comment on files shared through the service.
These launches mean that Dropbox will be more valuable to people as a productivity service, and not just a folder to hold files. It’s especially important as the company tries to capture the interest of business users, who have a wide variety of competing storage services they could subscribe to instead.
Starting Wednesday, users of Dropbox’s iOS app will see a big plus button that they can tap to add content to Dropbox from their phone. To help with that, Dropbox is adding support for scanning documents with the iPhone camera, and saving them as PDFs. The scanning feature lets users upload multipage documents, and gives them the ability to adjust the settings of each scan so that uploaded documents are at their most readable.
Users can also upload photos from their phone using a new photo upload workflow that will let them add individual images and also all of the pictures taken on a particular day into Dropbox. The service will use machine learning to try and recognize when documents are the subject of uploaded photos (whether through the iOS app or other means) and offer to convert and process them to scans.
Dropbox Business customers will be able to search for text inside those scanned documents, thanks to new optical character recognition functionality that the company made available for its top tier of paying customers. It builds on full-text search capabilities that Dropbox already has available for digital documents uploaded to its service.
Using the plus button, people can also start Microsoft Office documents from the Dropbox iOS app. First, users select the document type, where they want to save it, and give it a file name, all inside the Dropbox app. After that, they’ll be sent out to one of Microsoft’s mobile apps to edit the file they just created, with all the changes being saved back to Dropbox.
Company representatives wouldn’t say when users could expect Dropbox’s Android app to get the same features, but said that the company believes in making sure that its apps have feature parity across platforms.
People who want to use Dropbox to share files will have an easier time doing so with new updates released Wednesday. The Dropbox apps for Mac and Windows now let users access detailed file sharing settings from the Mac Finder or Windows Explorer. That means users can set granular permissions for sharing documents without having to use the Dropbox web interface.
On top of that, all users can now share single files with specific people, rather than having to provide open access to everyone with a link or giving a list of people specific access to a folder. Users of Dropbox’s free tier will also be able to share folders in read-only mode, something that was previously only available to paying customers.
After sharing files, users will now be able to comment on specific parts of a file from their Web browser. Previously, Dropbox comments weren’t able to reference a specific part of a file—now users can highlight an area and discuss it in particular.
In the future, Dropbox will also allow users to attach Dropbox comments to Office files within Microsoft’s desktop productivity apps. It’s planning an update to the Dropbox badge that will let people make live comments on a PowerPoint presentation that show up in Dropbox, without having to leave the file they’re working on.
Dropbox also gave business users a new security-focused feature. Dropbox Business administrators can now access a new audit log, which provides a record of everyone who interacted with a particular file. Those logs can be viewed through an online administrator console, but are also accessible through the company’s API.
That means companies can choose to work with partners like Splunk and Domo to monitor those audit logs and generate notifications if something weird is going on.
The news comes a week after Drew Houston, the company’s co-founder and CEO, revealed at a conference that Dropbox is operating cash flow positive. It’s a positive sign for the company, which hasn’t been much for announcing new, shipping features over the past year. These announcements may signal a sea change for the company going forward—it’ll be interesting to see what comes next.
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