During the Q&A portion of a Macworld/iWorld session last week, an audience member asked: "What not-from-Apple utility do you use the most during a typical workday?" For me, the answer is easy: Dropbox.
Dropbox earns my number one spot because of its versatility and simplicity. If I'm working on an article and want to be certain that the latest version is always on both my Mac Pro and my MacBook, I put the document in Dropbox. If I scan something and my wife wants a copy of it, I drop the file into the Dropbox folder we share. If I use my Mac to get a boarding pass and want it accessible on my iPhone, Dropbox manages that job, too.
Especially on the Mac, Dropbox handles these tasks in such a simple, transparent way that you can barely tell you're using third-party software at all. It seems as if all you're doing is moving items in or out of an ordinary Finder folder--except that Dropbox is far from an ordinary folder. Instead, it's a special location that synchronizes everything in it with every other device, Mac and iOS, that's logged in to your Dropbox account.
Perhaps you're thinking that Apple's iCloud, especially with its Documents in the Cloud feature, is an adequate alternative to Dropbox. Think again. As a result of Apple's sandboxing and other self-imposed restrictions, iCloud lags far behind Dropbox.
On a Mac, you have no Apple-supported way to access iCloud documents from the Finder. Apple intends for you to access iCloud only via Open and Save dialogs. And it allows you to access a given document only from the Open dialog of the app that created it. So, if you use Preview to save a PDF file to iCloud, you won't be able to locate or open the file in Adobe Reader. Even worse, if you want to view the iCloud-stored PDF file on your iPad, you can't--because there is no Preview app for iOS that will show the file.
Apple's iCloud setup means that you can't group related iCloud-stored documents, created by different apps, into a single folder. iCloud also omits most of Dropbox's secondary features, such as the ability to recover a deleted file or to share a folder with another user.
By accessing the hidden Mobile Documents folder where your Mac locally stores iCloud documents, you can work around some of these iCloud limitations. But this is hardly an ideal solution.
By this point, you may well be asking: "Why?" Why didn't Apple design iCloud to be more like Dropbox? Why isn't it furiously working to redesign it now? Or why doesn't Apple just purchase Dropbox and then either insert Dropbox features into iCloud or--at a minimum--leave Dropbox as a separate Apple-supported app. Either way, all OS X and iOS users would have instant system-supported access to Dropbox's features.
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