BEST OF THE WEB: How Dropbox plans to weave the “virtual tapestry” that remakes the internet

Dropbox has been one of the biggest instigators of change on the internet in the past few years. What was a huge problem just a few years ago – being able to share files across devices – is now solved by downloading a small program.

But now, Dropbox is aiming to become much, much more than a simple file-sharing service.

Apart from picking up the Mailbox app earlier this year, Dropbox this week debuted a new developer API that will allow users to share data across apps on different platforms.

In essence, Dropbox is aiming to replace the hard drive. Soon, developers will be able to create apps that use Dropbox as a file sharing system instead of having to save files on the device itself.

Think about it: Pick up an app on an iPhone, then access the same files using an Android device. How? The files are all on the cloud – in Dropbox.

As this Wired piece shows, Dropbox isn’t just trying to build a neat file sharing site. It’s trying to become the internet’s hard drive – or at least, its “spiritual successor”.

[Founder Drew Houston] says the hard drive needs to be replaced because so many of us are doing so much computing on devices that don’t fit the traditional paradigm for working with files.

Users don’t interact with files on iOS, Android, or the web the way they do on PCs. Apps don’t have “open” or “save” options that launch a separate window where you tap through a folder tree.

This isn’t just about files, the piece says. Dropbox wants to become the infrastructure that holds the internet’s data together.

And as the piece points out, Dropbox is in a great position to do this. It is owned by none of the major tech companies, and isn’t mandated to play by their ecosystem rules.

Data synchronised across all devices – that’s the Dropbox vision.

With something it calls Datastores, Dropbox says it’s giving developers a way to make their apps truly cross-device and cross-platform. Datastores allow apps to write data about themselves into Dropbox from one device and read that data on another.

At Dropbox’s offices, developers showed Wired a simple drawing app they built as a proof-of-concept. When Ruchi Sanghvi, Dropbox’s vice president of operations, drew a heart in the app on her iPad screen, the same heart appeared in near-realtime in a version of the app running on the web.

Dropbox is talking big, saying this is an ecosystem that could infiltrate the entire internet. And given Houston’s argument – it doesn’t sound implausible.

The time is near, he believes, when the “pervasive data layer” becomes an expected part of the fabric of everyday life. It’s just a question of which company builds the best loom for weaving that virtual tapestry. “It’s going to work this way in the future. Why not us?”

Check out this story for a good vision of where the internet is heading.

Has the smartphone boom peaked?

The last few years has seen the smartphone market soar, with Google, Microsoft and Apple all vying for dominance. But in this new piece at Forbes, Robert Hof argues that given the size of the industry, there may not be much more room to grow.

Hof points out that smartphone penetration has now reached over 50% worldwide. And as he highlights, Apple has recorded slower growth this year, alongside other manufacturers like HTC and Samsung.

The explanation? “The thrill is gone.”

The latest smartphones, even the high-end ones, aren’t disappearing off the shelves. Indeed, one of Samsung’s key problems is that the new Galaxy S4 phone didn’t sell as well as expected.

Meanwhile, cheaper smartphones increasingly are looking good enough, at least for the minority of phone owners who haven’t yet stepped up to higher-end models.

Another important point underlined by Hof is that apps are looking more exciting than the smartphones themselves. Who cares what kind of phone you have – as long as it plays Angry Birds?

When software becomes the more important factor in a technology product, you know the hardware is likely to take more of a back seat in years to come.

Check out this piece if you want to see a good argument for why manufacturers will have to start diversifying in the next few years.

Delve into Facebook’s privacy settings

Facebook’s privacy settings have simplified over the past few years, but they’re still insanely complex.

Over at Mashable, there’s a handy guide for locking down all your privacy settings – complete with pictures.

Head over here to check it out – don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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