Box sharpens iOS app, Web interface in fight to stand out against big rivals

With the improvements, the enterprise cloud storage pioneer wants to make it easier for users to interact with their files

Box's new app for iPhone and iPad lets users log in with their fingerprint via the iOS Touch ID tool

Box's new app for iPhone and iPad lets users log in with their fingerprint via the iOS Touch ID tool

As it seeks differentiation with collaboration, workflow and document management features, Box has revamped its iOS app and Web interface to simplify how users and IT administrators interact with files kept in its cloud storage service.

The improvements in version 3.5 of the iOS app are intended to help Box protect its turf on iPhones and iPads against Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive for Business, Dropbox for Business and other competitors, as people more frequently turn to their tablets and smartphones for work.

According to Ethan Batraski, Box's vice president of product design, users tap their Box file repository an average of 50 times per day, often from multiple devices, including iPhones, iPads and Android gizmos. "They need to access their content and collaborate across devices, so we want to make that easier," he said.

In version 3.5 of the app, users can add the Box widget to the iOS Notification Center, where they'll see links to recently accessed files and be able to trigger several actions, including creating a new file with the Box Note tool, taking photos or videos and saving them directly to Box, and calling up files and folders previously designated as favorites.

Box has also added the option for individual users to protect their app with the iOS Touch ID tool, so that the app will only launch after making a positive ID of their fingerprint.

Box is also rolling out user experience enhancements to its Web app, including improved navigation, an updated notifications interface and the addition of a "favorites" feature for quicker access to hand-picked files and folders.

Box is addressing the growing interaction between its users and external collaborators with a new whitelist function that lets IT admins specify which external domains they consider safe. Users will be able to issue invitations and accept invitations from other people within these domains only. Box is also giving admins new usage reports that capture how files are shared with outside parties.

In September, Box outlined several new capabilities and strategies to boost the value of its core cloud storage and file share service for businesses. For example, the company said that next year it will launch a workflow engine that will automate the routing of documents and files, as well as the actions that people need to take on them. In addition, Box unveiled a plan to deepen its knowledge of and presence in select vertical industries.

The challenge for the 10-year-old company is that mighty rivals, including Microsoft and Google, have driven down the price of enterprise cloud storage dramatically, a trend that doesn't affect those larger companies because they make their money elsewhere. The bigger rivals also offer cloud storage as part of a broader package of enterprise collaboration, communication and productivity wares.

It's unclear whether Box can evolve fast enough. It must continue developing new collaboration, document and business process management features that businesses will pay for. Simultaneously, it has to keep getting its cloud storage service integrated with as many third-party business software systems as possible via partnerships and via its open APIs.

Box, whose storage service is in use at 240,000 businesses by 27 million employees, announced in March its intention to launch an IPO, but it has yet to pull the trigger on those plans.

Critics interpret the delay as a sign the company isn't as confident anymore about its prospects as a publicly traded company, while co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie has responded that the company never had a specific IPO launch date in mind.

In the IPO registration papers Box submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Los Altos, California company acknowledged that profitability wasn't on the horizon, that it's spending money hand over fist in sales and marketing, and that only 7 percent of its approximately 25 million end users pay for the service.

However, Box raised another $150 million this summer from its backers, on top of the more than $300 million investors had previously injected into the company, which has about 1,000 employees. Among its big-name customers are GE, which is rolling out Box to its 300,000 employees globally, and DreamWorks Animation.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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