Dropbox Bought Mailbox Because It Wants To Be More Than A Cloud Storage Company

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Dropbox earlier today caused a Friday boom with its acquisition of hot new mobile mail startup Mailbox. The move has two layers of significance for the company, and it points to what more we will likely see in its future:

It’s a sign of an even bigger push into mobile for Dropbox. In addition to Mailbox, an app designed for iOS devices, Dropbox has made a few other acquisitions that point specifically to cloud services that work on mobile devices. They include Audiogalaxy for music and Snapjoy for pictures on the consumer side. And it also bought TapEngage, a startup that specialised in tablet-optimized advertising.

Dropbox clearly sees mobile as an essential route ahead for the company. Last month, Dropbox’s CEO Drew Houston was a keynote speaker at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where he gave out an open invitation to any and all handset makers and mobile carriers to get in touch to see where Dropbox could fit into their worlds. “If we’re not already working together, we’d love to work with you,” he said with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face.

He also said in Barcelona that mobile was the single-biggest platform for sign-ups for Dropbox in 2012, with the company now topping 100 million subscribers uploading 1 billion files per day on 500 million connected devices. That was due in no small part to the company’s relationship with Samsung, which integrates Dropbox into its smartphones and gives those buying the Galaxy S III 50 GB of free storage (an offer that may well get extended to the new S 4 devices).

It’s a sign of how Dropbox wants to be more than just a cloud storage company. This is the other motif behind all of Dropbox’s acquisitions. Storage is the thing that people pay for now, but down the line there are two reasons why Dropbox would want to have more. It may be that eventually Dropbox will want to make money from other revenue streams to diversify its business. Alongside that, it may want to have more services to keep consumers on Dropbox’s platform rather than going elsewhere — just like Google, Apple, Microsoft and others do.

In both of these cases, the acquisition of Mailbox, along with Snapjoy and Audiogalaxy, make sense. Add to this Dropbox’ first acquisition, of Cove, nearly a year ago to the day. That was a “stealth collaboration startup”, as Alexia wrote at the time, probably made more for talent than for actual product. But in any case, Aditya Agarwal and Ruchi Sanghvi, the two engineers behind Cove, will have brought strong product experience, gained from previous years at Facebook, also into the mix.

The move beyond cloud storage is an important route for Dropbox, and it should come as no surprise that it’s one also being eyed up by its similar-sounding, sort-of compatriot, sort-of rival, Box. CEO Aaron Levie says the company also sees mobile platforms as fundamental to its future growth, and it is in the process of testing out “Google Docs”-style services that could see it also expanding beyond storage and enabling other company’s cloud-based services, and offering more of its own.