Dropbox Kills Mailbox, an App It Bought for $100M
As it refocuses on business customers, Dropbox said today that it’s shutting down two of its once-marquee consumer-oriented apps: the photo gallery app Carousel and email client Mailbox.
The good news is that your Carousel photos aren’t going anywhere—they’ll still be stored in your Dropbox, where they’ve always been. Dropbox is even working to integrate some of Carousel’s functionality into the core Dropbox app interface. Mailbox users, however, will have to find a new email app by February 26, 2016, when the service that the Mailbox apps depend on will shut down.
“Over the past few months, we’ve increased our team’s focus on collaboration and simplifying the way people work together,” CEO Drew Houston and CTO Arash Ferdowsi wrote in a blog post announcing the decision today.
In other words, shuttering these apps fits into Dropbox’s new focus on corporate productivity software and services as opposed to consumer-oriented tech.
Dropbox is in a tight spot right now. The company has raised about $1.1 billion in funding and is reportedly valued at $10 billion. But its competitor Box, which went public this year, is valued at just $1.7 billion. Box has been far more focused on enterprise collaboration over the years than Dropbox, so to convince investors that Dropbox is actually worth more than its more tersely named competitor, it’s going to have to leapfrog Box, not to mention Microsoft and Google, in technology and user experience.
Although Mailbox could presumably fit into that strategy, Dropbox is instead focusing on its new Google Docs-style document editing and collaboration service Paper, which may gain some of the functionality of Mailbox. “As we deepened our focus on collaboration, we realized there’s only so much an email app can do to fundamentally fix email,” a blog post credited to “the Mailbox team” reads. “We’ve come to believe that the best way for us to improve people’s productivity going forward is to streamline the workflows that generate so much email in the first place.”
Reversal of Fortune
That’s a huge reversal of fortune for something that was once considered the future of email. Dropbox acquired Orchestra, the company behind Mailbox, for a reported $100 million in 2013, before the company had even fully released its flagship iPhone app to the public.
Orchestra was founded by Gentry Underwood, who previously worked at the design firm IDEO, well known for its work for Apple and other tech companies, and Scott Cannon, who had worked for Apple. The Mailbox mobile app featured an innovative approaching to organizing email on the go. A left swipe allowed you to “snooze” a message, scheduling it to reappear at a later time. Swiping right could archive or delete a message. This clever approach, along with plenty of marketing hype, to hundreds of thousands of people signing up for the waiting list for the beta version of the app. The hype was only furthered by Mailbox’s decision to post a counter that showed you exactly how many people were still ahead of you on the waiting list.
After joining Dropbox, Underwood became the company’s head of design and oversaw the design of Carousel, which launched with a lavish party in San Francisco last year. But the app never quite took off. “Over the past year and a half, we’ve learned the vast majority of our users prefer the convenience and simplicity of interacting with their photos directly inside of Dropbox,” the team admitted in a blog post. And today, Mailbox’s once fresh interface has become the standard approach for mobile email clients like Readdle’s Spark, Google’s Inbox to Microsoft’s revamped version of Outlook. Mailbox, in other words, had become just as much a commodity as Dropbox’s storage and sync service had.
Dropbox has been on an acquisition spree over the past few years, snapping up companies like Slack competitor Zulip and the makers of note-taking app Hackpad. It’s apparently reassigned the teams behind those products to work on features such as chat and collaborative text editing features of Paper. Dropbox has reportedly acquired companies such as Audiogalaxy and Readmill solely for their their employees rather than their products, a practice known as “acqui-hiring.”
Although Dropbox open sourced the technology behind Hackpad and Zulip’s products this year, the company has decided against open sourcing Mailbox, according to the product’s frequently asked questions page. Dropbox did not immediately respond to a request for comment as to whether it will continue to devote resources to Hackpad and Zulip, or whether it will lay off any of the Mailbox or Carousel teams.