We think Apple’s iCloud is a great service in many ways, but we can’t argue that when it comes to things like sharing and collaboration, it’s lagged far behind the competition for many years, and it’s not uncommon to see even those who primarily use iCloud also having to keep other services like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive around too.
Needless to say, however, we were pretty excited about the announcement of iCloud Folder Sharing last year, which promised to addressed one of the final deficiencies that’s kept many from going all-in on Apple’s cloud-based file storage service, and now that iCloud has caught up on the sharing field, it looks like at least some of its rivals are now trying to catch up in other areas in order to keep their users from being wooed away.
You see, despite its traditional sharing limitations, there are things that iCloud Drive has long done better than services like Dropbox or Google Drive. Chief among these is the seamless ability to automatically sync your Desktop and Documents folders to iCloud and have all of your files available not only on your other Macs, but even from the Files app on your iPhone or iPad.
While there are workarounds that let you do that with other cloud-based storage services, Apple’s solutions comes baked into macOS and can be switched on with a single click. There are no configuration options to fiddle with, and once it’s enabled, it not only just works in the background to keep all of your files synced to the cloud, but can also be used to manage your disk space by offloading infrequently accessed files so they remain in the cloud without taking up space on your computer.
It’s a well thought out solution that works so well it seems almost magical. Even files that have been offloaded to iCloud still appear in their normal places in the macOS Finder, and as long as you have an internet connection, you can open them normally and they’ll be pulled down from iCloud on-demand.
For a long time, however, the sharing limitations in iCloud meant that no matter how great the macOS and iOS integration was, services like Dropbox would always have an edge, and so they didn’t need to try as hard to cater to Mac users. Since iCloud couldn’t address the collaborative needs of many users, they’d have to turn to services like Dropbox anyway.
However, now that iCloud has closed that gap, it seems that Dropbox realizes that it has some catching up to do, and it looks like it plans to add similar macOS Desktop and Documents folder sync features in a future Dropbox update.
According to 9to5Mac, the new version is already in beta, and adds an option to let users sync their Documents, Desktop and Downloads folders by flipping a single switch. While this is a departure from Dropbox’s traditional model of a single isolated folder that syncs, it does appear that right now it’s still dropping copies of the macOS folders into a “My Mac” folder within the main Dropbox folder, so it’s still not nearly as clean as iCloud, which is sort of to be expected, although Dropbox may fix that before the final release.
However, we’re pretty skeptical that Dropbox will be able to provide the same transparency as iCloud already does for Mac users, and suspect that this will become more of a backup solution for business users, and thus far there’s been no mention of how Dropbox might handle offloading files, nor if it would even be possible for it to do so. Apple’s iCloud naturally has a home field advantage in this area, since it’s so tightly integrated as a core feature into macOS, and with the addition of iCloud Folder Sharing Apple may have finally reached the point where more users can switch over to it as their primarily cloud file service.