Cloud storage apps - what are they and how do they work?

Cloud Storage
By Jerry Hildenbrand on 25 Feb 2012 03:44 pm EST

Dropbox and have been in the news recently, updating their apps and giving away tons of free space, so it's understandable that a few of us are wondering what the heck they're all about. Sure, you know you get Gigabytes of space, and great looking apps, but what exactly do they do, and how do they work? We're about to tell you! I'll focus on Dropbox here. I'm not recommending it over any of the others, but they are all similar and we've already got all our stuff uploaded there and we're too lazy busy to switch. 

Dropbox is storage space, reserved for you, on a computer somewhere in San Francisco. Other services, like or Ubuntu One may be in different cities, but they all are in big fancy data centers where nerdy people type in the command window all day and night to keep things running smoothly. They aren't just old Windows machines sitting in a basement somewhere, they are dedicated places designed to hold lots and lots of data. They routinely make backups, and have excellent uptime -- your data is going to be there when you need it to be there. They also use things like SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and AES-256 encryption to make sure nobody can peek at your files without your login credentials. Your stuff is safe in these types of cloud storage centers. Things like file encryption and obfuscation are best left for another day, so we're not going to discuss that type of security -- just don't do anything illegal, OK?

Most of these companies offer a set amount of storage space for free, and have yearly plans for folks who need more. The amount is different from service to service, so be sure to read those terms before you sign up for one. This storage is yours, to put any files you want there, so you can get to them from any Internet connected device anywhere on Earth. You can do this at the company's website, or more importantly for this conversation, through a program on your smartphone or computer.

The program on your computer is usually set up to sync a folder with your online account. Inside this Dropbox folder are all the other folders and files you've placed in the cloud, and they stay synchronized -- change a file on your computer and it uploads the changes to your cloud account, and those changes are available from anywhere. You can also share these files or folders with other users of the same service, which means someone can make a change to a file and it will sync to their cloud account, through Dropbox, and into the shared folder on my computer. That makes collaboration pretty easy, and we share folders and files a lot here at Mobile Nations (You should see Bla1ze's lolcat pictures!).

Things are different on our smartphones. We don't normally have tons of free space to sync everything, so it's a bit more selective. The data about each folder and file in your online account is sent to your phone when you start up the app, and you can see everything that's there without having to download it all. When you need a file, you can choose to download it to your phone's memory somewhere and access it through your phone. You can also upload files, which will then sync to your cloud account and any connected computers you may have. 

As you can see, there are all sorts of ways this could be useful. I have a folder in my Dropbox with names and phone numbers I may need in an emergency. If something happens, and I end up losing my smartphone while I'm out somewhere, I can still have access to them from any computer with a web browser. My wife likes to keep her shopping list in a shared folder, and either of us can add something to it from anywhere. Bla1ze likes to share his lolcats. I think just about anyone would find these services useful, and if you aren't using them yet you should give them a try. Links to Android apps for the three mentioned in this post are below, give one of them a shot!

Reader comments

Cloud storage apps - what are they and how do they work?


RIM needs to come out with RIM Cloud Services. Hopefully we'll see something like that with BB10. Much like Apple's iCloud and what not. So many options.

To the CLOUD!!!!

iCloud is pretty bad still, some cloud services are great but iCloud is an example of one that still needs some work.

In what way is it bad? I've set my wife's iPhone, iTunes and iPad to use the cloud to share/store/exchange items. Works quite well for what she needs.

A RIM cloud service that uses your BBID to link all your devices/profiles/info etc... would be nirvana. It just makes sense.

I love DropBox because many 3rd party apps have integration with it. My issue with Dropbox is the expensive price for additional storage.

Google is expected to come out with a similar service to DropBox. I'm expecting their prices to be a lot cheaper than DropBox's offerings. MS SkyDrive is an option too but again, not a lot of 3rd party app integration. doesn't have a lot of 3rd party integration which sucks considering the 50GB of free storage that many have with them.

Dropbox is great because of the PC app, but their mobile app is a joke. ONLY being able to upload pics is ridiculous. is great because of the 50GB. But no blackberry phone app sucks, and PC app is only available for paying customers...

Its a couple extra steps but there is a way to download pics and files from the DropBox app for BlackBerry. Select the file you want, hit the BB button, select "Email link to this file" when the new email message opens, click the link and select "Open Link" once the file open place the cursor over the picture and save as normal, video and music files will ask you if you want "open or save" the file.

Like I said, a couple of extra steps but it works if you need it.

If you are looking for a native BlackBerry App, ExSafe for is available if you wish to avoid all the potential syncing problems. Works really well with Documents to Go.

On the other hand if you are looking for true document collaboration between BlackBerry and desktop then ExSafe for Docs2Go is more appropriate especially for business use.

Both are available on App World

App World ExSafe4Docs2Go

I have the .bar file for Dropbox but haven't sideloaded it yet - has anyone tried it? does it work on PB pretty well? (I would have hopped onto this Dropbox bandwagon already but I can't get into it at work, it's blocked by our firewall - hence the lack of rush to sideload the app.)

Bluebox for PlayBook is free in AppWorld and syncs with your Dropbox account. Bluebox Plus is coming out soon with many new features.

This article could better written. good for people who never heard the word "cloud storage".

Its a critique not a comment.

box net is offering 50Gb free storage to any company/school email id and is easy to use.

only problem is active sync feature is not available like dropbox

Files and folders is the best solution at the moment to get through to your Dropbox account. Dropbox has no PlayBook app and the BB app is pretty poor compared to IOS & Android. could be nicer, but the PlayBook app doesn't offer much and there is no app for BB just a link, what is it with these big companies not making apps for BB, pretty sad really.. is an app for PlayBook. It's just not much of least not compared to Files and Folders. I can preview the photos with F & F (which is a much needed feature it turns out) and I can access both my company dropbox and my personal accounts. Well worth the $. Sure it would be nice to get this stuff for free but everybody has to make a living somehow

I've been using an app on my Playbook called BlueBox, which has been seamlessly working with my existing Dropbox account. Found it on App World, highly recommend it. No need to go Android.

Native Dropbox app for Playbook would be nice...even has one.

It's great to see Jerry posting an article on Crackberry. He's awesome on AndroidCentral...lots of technical expertise. Keep up the good work.


I just wrote a post the other day about how to get SugarSync to sync files automatically between your Playbook and your computers using a side-loaded Android app. Search for "sync files with sugarsync" in the Crackberry forums for instructions.

I use BlueBox on the PB and find that it is all I really need. I have tried several others including Files and Folders but all of them lack the one function that I really want and that is the ability to open a document, make a few edits and then simply click "save" for it to be automatically saved back to the Dropbox folder. With all of them the edits are saved locally on the PB forcing you to go and find the file once you are done and upload it to Dropbox, which introduces the risk of multiple versions of the file. The Dropbox app for BB automatically prompts you to upload the new version after editing. If this feature is included in the forthcoming BlueBox + app, sign me up.

Hey... Search out my post in the Android apps section of the forum. I think the solution I posted to use SugarSync will do almost exactly what you want. All you have to do is set-up two way syncing between your playbook and SugarSync, which is possible with either the Android SugarSync app or the FolderSync app that is linked in my post.

Rghtly said, i love to use Dropbox app too. It is awesome and easy to use as well. The service is remarkable, one could easily enjoy it! Another part of the story contains some other providers from the same industry. By saying this i mean, we have several other options available other than Dropbox and Box as the industry is way too big. I have used SugarSync and JustCloud, both of them are pretty good and a little bit cheaper too.

Some startups have begun to rise also in the market, Mediafire I mean ;)