Easing mobile collaboration with the cloud in a Box

When files are stored in the cloud, many companies need access to them on mobile devices. And once they’re on those devices, users want to be able to edit the files and place them back into the cloud. That process has been difficult at times, experts say, but cloud collaboration vendor, Box, is making some moves to address it.

Allowing the manipulation of files that are stored in the cloud from mobile devices is easier said than done, says Chris Yeh, of Box, which provides cloud and file sharing services. Box – formerly Box.net – announced four business process applications as part of its BoxOne Cloud service that have document editing and manipulation features aimed at mobile users. Along with those apps, the company has also created a gallery where users can choose from 30 other apps that have been optimized for use with the Box cloud.

Box teamed with four app development companies to create the new apps. As part of the BoxOne Cloud, there are apps that allow document editing, secure e-signature, digital note taking and PDF annotation, the company said. They include Quick Office, a Microsoft office tool that runs on iOS; Adobe EchoSign, a tool that allows documents to be signed with a signature; PDF Expert, which allows for annotations to be made in PDFs and PaperPort Notes, which is a note taking app that has dictation features.

Mobile industry analyst Chris Silva of the Altimeter Group says the move by Box is meant to appeal to enterprise customers who may be frustrated with limitations of mobile devices. “Mobile devices are great for presentation and consumption of data, but they’re really poor for creation and editing of files,” Silva says.

The increased adoption of mobile devices in the enterprise has come with a need to be able to extend work functions on to those devices, Silva says. In a personal computer environment, a document is saved onto a desktop, changes are made, and then it is saved back into the cloud or whatever other folder the user wants. Allowing documents to be edited opens up a series of new possibilities for the type of work that can be done on mobile devices, Silva says.

Box has seen an increase in the number of customers accessing its services from mobile devices, a 30-fold surge from the beginning of 2011 to now, Yeh says. But accessing files that are stored in the cloud has its limitations. For one, when a Box app is installed on iOS or on an Android OS, if that file is opened in another application in order to edit it, the changes the user makes are not automatically stored back into the cloud. In effect, a user could take a document from the cloud, make changes to it, and not be able to place it back into the cloud.

Box has released a set of developer programming guidelines of ways that apps can be created that will allow for easier integration with the Box cloud and allow changes to be made more easliy from mobile devices more easily.

Box competitors such as DropBox and Sugarsynch, have focused their efforts on allow compatibility among various devices and operating systems. Box’s moves, Silva said, are a direct play to enterprise customers.

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