Dropbox Adds Document Scanning, Creation Tools in Corporate Push

  • Other new features include more commenting, collaboration
  • Company seeks to move beyond file sharing into broader market

Dropbox Inc. unveiled tools for scanning documents using a smartphone camera and for creating new Microsoft Office documents with the click of a button, as the file-storage company pushes into new parts of the corporate cloud-services market.

The new features will let users scan physical documents, whiteboards, receipts and Post-It notes and store them as Dropbox files, the San Francisco-based company announced Wednesday. Business customers of Dropbox can then search the captured files using character recognition. People working on the free mobile app for Apple Inc.’s iOS can click a new Plus button to create Word, PowerPoint and Excel files and automatically save them to Dropbox.

Dropbox is trying to expand from file-syncing and sharing into the far larger market of cloud-based collaboration. The company is focusing on adding features that let employees work together, comment, chat and create, putting Dropbox into competition with a larger group of companies, from current rivals Microsoft Corp. and Google to newer competitors like Slack and Atlassian.

"We want to go from keeping your files in sync to keeping your team in sync," said Todd Jackson, the company’s vice president of product and design, in an interview before the company’s announcement. "We are starting to layer on communication on top of files."

Real-Time Comments

New communication features will include one that lets users highlight a piece of text or image in a file and comment on it. The company also previewed a tool for adding a series of real-time comments at the top of a file, so several people can hold running discussions. The company declined to give details about how the previewed features will eventually appear in the products.

Another future tool will tell users which coworkers are also looking at a file or have viewed it recently -- a Dropbox function that works with Microsoft Office files now, but the company wants to bring it to many other file types and apps, Jackson said. Several of the new features rely on a partnership between Dropbox and Microsoft, which is also one of Dropbox’s biggest rivals.

"We want to take the tools that people know and love like Microsoft Office and make them more collaborative," Jackson said. "We’re working with them really closely, and to their credit they’ve been incredibly open. They, like us, want to embrace the tools people are using."

Closely held Dropbox has faced questions over its valuation -- which reached $10 billion in a 2014 funding round -- in the past year as several investors wrote down the value of their holdings in the company. It’s trying to cut costs and focus on attracting more business customers with additional productivity and security features. Last week at the Bloomberg Technology Conference, Chief Executive Officer Drew Houston said Dropbox isn’t profitable yet but is free-cash-flow positive, a milestone Jackson attributed to revenue growth and greater discipline on costs.

The cloud file-sync and share market was forecast to generate $1.95 billion in revenue last year, according to researcher IDC, divided up among companies like Dropbox, Microsoft and Box Inc. as well as Apple Inc. and Google. Jackson said Dropbox wants to more directly address the broader -- and more competitive -- market for cloud collaboration services and Internet-based software, which he sees as more like tens of billions in sales annually.

Later this year, Dropbox also plans to revamp its products to give information technology administrators greater control and added security options, part of its effort to lure more corporate customers, Jackson said.

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