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Dropbox launches a new way to scan documents with your phone, and other sharing features

TechCrunch TechCrunch 22/06/2016 Matthew Lynley

Dropbox today is releasing a slew of new enterprise features as it continues to try to woo larger businesses in an effort to build a strong new line of business.

The most interesting of which is probably a tool in its mobile application that allows business users to scan documents and upload them directly into Dropbox. The idea is that there is still a lot of activity and business development that happens in the real world, and Dropbox hopes to seamlessly extend that into its services.

“We all still love using analog tools, writing on white boards and using sticky notes and printed pieces of paper,” head of product Todd Jackson said. “We want to take analog info, help get users into Dropbox, and make it more searchable and accessible.”

Here’s one of the more unique aspects: the company uses object character recognition (or OCR, for short) in order to recognize text on the document that it’s scanning. That makes content within those documents — if it works — actually searchable inside the app. Given that Dropbox’s strength has generally been its core technology, and its quick synchronization tools, the company is clearly leaning on that in order to build a differentiated product.

“The way we view our job is to take all this complexity that exists in real world and get to simple, thats what separates Dropbox from other companies,” head of product Todd Jackson said. “We sweat the details, launching new features and products is just table stakes. The hard part is how you integrate into workflows and help make work simple.”

There are plenty of use cases for something like this. A lot of design happens on real-life media and in conference rooms, for example. But all that information has to be stored somewhere, eventually, and be easily accessible. If Dropbox can make that experience more seamless, it might find a user base that rapidly adopts the technology in favor of traditional flatbed scanners — or, worse, huge binders full of documents.

Starting off, the scanner — and other tools — will be available for iOS users. The tools aren’t on Android just yet, and the company didn’t have a direct response as to when they might be available to Android users.

The company is releasing a slew of other features for its business customers as well. One of which is a big ‘plus’ button at the bottom of the app, placed front and center kind of in the same way Instagram’s photo button is places, that’s used to make new Office documents. From the app, users can create Word, PowerPoint or Excel documents. Users can also import those documents they scanned into the Office documents.

There are a couple that aren’t going to be available right away, including the ability to view previews of previous versions of documents. That, in theory, makes it easier for business customers to review which versions of documents they want to revert to without having to revert to each one, one by one, to find the base case they are looking for after iterating on it a lot. Another is to add area-specific comments to documents, as well as the ability to share view-only folders.

All of these are basically built out to make Dropbox a more rich enterprise experience. And for good reason: Basic online storage is becoming commoditized, especially as companies like Apple and Google are ever-increasing the free storage they offer to their users. So Dropbox has had to make a pivot of sorts (though it is still finding new features for its basic users) to building robust tools for enterprise customers in order to generate a new business for the company.

It’s a tricky balance, however. There’s an enormous amount of competition in the space, whether that’s Box’s collaboration tools or simply going with Microsoft’s tools — though there are a lot of integrations into Dropbox, and the company focuses on finding ways to work with those companies rather than directly compete. Nonetheless, Dropbox faces an uphill battle convincing enterprise customers to adopt its tools.

Dropbox has found itself in an interesting position. Its customer base has traditionally been geared toward traditional consumers, but some of its recent consumer apps — like Carousel and Mailbox — have been whiffs and the company has had to do some soul-searching on which tools it wants to focus on. The user implications for tools like these are obvious, and the market is certainly large, but the question is whether they’ll find widespread adoption in businesses.

There’s another challenge here: convincing much larger businesses, which traditionally move very slowly, to adopt these tools. It appears the bet is by making it simple for potential customers, it’ll attract attention from both the bottom up and top down. That’s going to basically be a core requirement for Dropbox’s new products to find widespread adoption. Dropbox has also made some other novel moves recently migrating its data to its own infrastructure. Jackson said that the move hadn’t necessarily had a large impact on the company’s relationship with businesses.

“That’s certainly been great for Dropbox in terms of business model, I don’t know that our business customers really feel one way or the other,” he said. “They trust Dropbox to keep their data safe.”

That’ll be important for the company as it continues to move forward. There’s a huge question mark for CEO Drew Houston, and whether he’ll be able to build a strong sustainable business given the commoditization of online storage. Houston said earlier this month at the Bloomberg Technology conference the company had become cash flow positive, though that definition is certainly going to be scrutinized in multiple ways by Silicon Valley observers.

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