Dropbox announces an easier, more constrained way for developers to implement sync

Dropbox, folder sync darling of iOS developers and users alike, has announced a new Dropbox Sync API that aims to make implementing in-app sync easier, but also safer and more constrained. The Dropbox blog announced three key parts of the API:

  • Dropbox, built in, which lets developers embed Dropbox to the extent that it looks like a local file system inside an app.
  • Write locally, sync globally, which lets a developer do basic file system actions like list contents, move, and delete.
  • Work offline, which uses local cache to handle operations when not connected to the internet.

The Dropbox SDK has examples of a notes app for iOS that includes just such Sync API integration, to help developers jumpstart their efforts.

I'm not a dev, so I can't claim any deep insight into the challenges of mobile sync. However, having spoken to numerous Dropbox developers in the past, it sounds like the seamless experience users have enjoyed in North America hasn't been easy to implement on their side, and hasn't been as seamless internationally. Obviously, Dropbox's hosts building more data centers outside U.S will help with the latter, while the Sync API is aimed squarely at the former.

That said, for those developers who have already spent time and effort building against the old API, there doesn't seem like there's any reason for them to considering a switch to the new API any time soon.

Justin Williams, the developer of Elements, an enormously popular Dropbox-based Markdown text editor, told us:

The current incarnation of the sync API doesn’t have any effect on Elements users. Since Elements allows users to work with any directory in their Dropbox, we can’t use the new sync API in its current form. I’d love to see them open the sync API up to any directory in Dropbox, rather than just a specific app sandbox. Hopefully they’ll do that in the future.

Denys Zhadanov of productivity powerhouse, Readdle shared:

This is a great move by Dropbox. For all devs, it will be much easier to integrate Dropbox sync with their apps. For us, it doesn't change much. We have invested a lot of work to create a similar functionality for our apps with Dropbox (more than a year ago) and other popular cloud services (google drive, box, skydrive, etc) If you have a working system in place, you won't benefit much. But if you are adding Dropbox to a new app, it's great and saves a lot of time.Of course, if a person has many files in one place/app he or she is kind of bound to it. It creates additional barriers for developers like us when moving users from a current app to a new one (like Documents).

So we may well see more apps with Dropbox sync in the future, but not necessarily anything transformative-ly better. That means, for me, it still doesn't solve the biggest problem with Dropbox. But I'll save that for a later article. If any developers are giving the new Dropbox Sync API a whirl, let me know your thoughts. For Dropbox users, let me know what you'd like to see improved in the Dropbox apps you're using.

Source: Dropbox blog

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.