Dropbox in the Age of Smartphones

In June 2010 Steve Jobs was interviewed by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher (see this article by Ina Fried on CNET). Jobs said the day would come when only one out of every few people would need a traditional computer.

Seemed a little far-fetched, but this was a man who not only predicted but created the future. As usual, he was right. Seven years later, more and more people are relying on their tablets and phones for all their computing needs.

A friend of mine saw the writing on the wall – or rather, the error messages on her Windows PC – and took a bold step. She decided not to replace her PC and rely on her phone instead. With all of her files and photos in the cloud, she’d have access to them everywhere, and if she ever needed to input a large amount of text, a small bluetooth keyboard would serve her just fine.

She upgraded her Dropbox account to the full 1TB and asked me to upload all her files from an external hard drive.

Piece of cake, I thought.

Turns out, Dropbox hasn’t really woken up to the Post-PC era yet. You can upload files through their web interface but not folders.

A quick search revealed plenty of people with the same problem but no one with any kind of workable solution.

So we wrote Dropbox and explained that syncing from a local Dropbox folder was not an option.

Here’s their reply:

Thanks for contacting Dropbox Support, my name is Xxxx and I’m here to help you with your issue today. So let’s get started!
You can upload folders through the web interface if you use Chrome or Firefox browsers: https://www.dropboxforum.com/t5/Syncing-and-uploads/How-do-I-upload-folders-to-my-dropbox/td-p/21758
But the upload files button is for files only, and dragging a folder onto the web interface results in error messages. The link they sent us didn’t answer our question either. Instead, it was full of comments from disgruntled users who failed to accomplish the very same thing I’ve been trying:

Matter of fact, just checked out Google Drive, and you just go to New, Upload Folder, and it’s DONE. Inexcusable to make it so byzantine. Get a clue, Dropbox… bye for now.
This is [censored] stupid… Unimaginable that you can drag-n-drop a “folder” into the Dropbox arena. Here is a “free” idea:
1. Create a “Right-Click” option that allows you to select “Dropbox” for an auto sync from a folder on your computer.
[censored] guys. How hard can it be for the millions of users you have enable a Folder upload!!
Come on guys – does anyone that works at “Dropbox” use their service?
prehistoric service…thinking of leaving too…
Hi Dropbox – I just wanted to let you know that as a result of this issue I am migrating my entire account to Onedrive and cancelling my sub.
And so on.

I’ve used Dropbox for years and have always been very happy with them. Syncing my files between two Macs and an iPhone has always worked flawlessly. But I’m beginning to have my doubts.

To be continued.

So now it’s five days later and Dropbox responded. As it turns out, their web application cannot upload folders. It can only upload files, up to 3000 at one time. For folders we were advised to use the Dropbox desktop application, even though we already explained that this was not an option because my friend doesn’t have a working computer anymore.

In the meantime, my friend found a workaround: she shared one of her Dropbox folders with another friend who had a 1TB account but only used a small portion of it. That friend was kind enough to copy 500GB of folders and files into the share, so they could be uploaded.

In my opinion, Dropbox is way behind the times with this. Laptops with 128GB SSDs are very common, now, and those people may want the bulk of their files in the cloud. The same goes for people who opt to do all their computing on a tablet. It seems to me that companies like Dropbox should make this very easy instead of making you jump through all kinds of hoops.

Postscript: Four days later – a last reply from Dropbox, saying they will relay the issue to their development team.

While we were waiting for Dropbox to follow up on our query, I was inspired to write a vaguely related short story. Click here if you’d like to read it.