Well, that's a buzzword-compliant question...but an important one nonetheless.
- Mobile has been a big driver of cloud
- Tablets (iPad in particular) have become increasingly prevalent within enterprises
- Enterprises are paying more attention to cloud and mobile
Since Box wants to become more enterprise-y, it has taken advantage of these trends, witnessed most recently by its announcement a new offering called OneCloud.
First a little techie lesson: each application on an iPad has its own file system -- a sort of a sandbox that other applications can't access. What this means is that if you create a document using iWork, it is stored in iWork's filesystem. If you wanted to edit it later with say Quickoffice or store it in Evernote, you couldn't do it (or let's say it's not trivial to do so). So there's no shared file system and nothing like a (Mac) Finder or (Windows) Explorer that allows you to navigate the file system on your device and open files as you'd like to. This kind of sandboxing has obvious limitations in the way iPad can be used productively.
Box released its OneCloud offering last week to try to solve this problem. It wants to become that shared file system that all other applications can access. For now, Box offers integration with 30 apps, albeit with a tighter integration among just four. Box calls the latter "premier apps," meaning you can do a bidirectional or as Box calls it, a round-trip integration between these apps and Box. You install these apps from within Box's iPad client. Think of it as a virtual operating system within iPad's iOS.
This is an interesting attempt, although certainly not the first one of its kind, despite what Box's PR would have you believe. For example, another cloud file sharing vendor, Oxygen also provides integration with 3rd-party apps, including with those that Box announced. Oxygen, in fact exposes itself as a WebDav folder, which basically means you can use it with pretty much any application.
At this point, Box's approach seems cleaner and more user-friendly. But it also means that for optimal benefit, you have to always be connected to the Web -- not a big deal for most but certainly a big deal for many countries (including India) where unlimited mobile data plans are either a farce or painfully expensive.
Many tools want to be that single repository for your enterprise. Alfresco attempted this with its own Cloud offering and integration with Dropbox to target mobile and iPad users. Now, even though Box still lacks quite a few essential features required to manage enterprise content, it has staked its claim to be a single repository of all your content with OneCloud. We will see how this latest attempt to consumerize enterprise systems pans out.
By the way, we will review Box, Oxygen (and a few other vendors) -- including how they differ in approach -- in our forthcoming Cloud File Sharing Tools evaluation stream.