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New Dropbox app designed to be the center of your work life online

The cloud storage company's new service encompasses tools like Slack, Zoom and Google G Suite.

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston unveils his company's new productivity-focused app.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Dropbox unveiled a major overhaul Tuesday designed to transform its file-sync service into a central collaboration hub connecting other tools like G Suite, Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Office.

Dropbox's new app presents files as a project-based package. Front and center are shared files, but other panes show other contacts in the project, an activity feed with changes to each file, and a table of contents you can use to navigate to other projects. The app is available for Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS in the company's early access program.

The new tool has the potential to simplify a lot of work online by bridging across different worlds, the next phase of maturity for modern workplaces. But many of today's online tools already are hubs unto themselves -- G Suite productivity tools, Microsoft Teams and Slack for communications, for example. So it could be Dropbox's app will become just another hub, not the one hub to rule them all.

The new Dropbox is integrated with other tools including Google's G Suite, Slack, and Zoom videoconferencing. That means you can fire off a message in Slack, invite people to work on a shared Google Doc file, and add a Zoom videoconference link to a Google Calendar event.

Dropbox's overhauled app is a hub encompassing files, communication, group to-do lists and more.

Dropbox's overhauled app is a hub encompassing files, communication, group to-do lists and more.

Dropbox

"Let's bring this experience into the 21st century, [transforming] from a folder full of files into a living teamwork space with all of your content," said Dropbox Chief Executive Drew Houston at a press event to announce the new effort.

If you got into Dropbox as a consumer who wanted to share files, take note of Dropbox's more corporate priorities today. It's aiming more for businesses who'll pay for a service that helps employees work better, not so much for consumers who need to make sure their phone data isn't lost.

Dropbox's business focus

Backing up your phone data is "largely a solved problem," Houston said in an interview. "We're focused on productivity and collaboration," though regular folks can benefit from the new Dropbox for tasks like organizing Little League teams or planning weddings, he said.

Dropbox long has offered free accounts with a 2GB cap, but in March, it imposed a new limit: you could sync your Dropbox data on three devices maximum. That's fine if you have one laptop, one phone and one tablet, but as soon as you go beyond that, you'll need to pay for Dropbox or pick a different service.

Dropbox has offered a useful file-sync service for years, but it's got competition -- Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Apple iCloud, all from tech giants that can build their services into the platforms they control.

The new tool sometimes integrates with other services. For example, if you send a Slack message or designate a file to be shared with a Slack channel, the recipients will hear about it on Slack.

But other parts of the new Dropbox take over activity that could happen elsewhere. For example, comments on Google Docs in Dropbox aren't visible within Google Docs' mechanism for conversing about a document.

Houston acknowledged there could be a problem where people get new fragmentation, not new unification. But the company is working on closer integration with others, he said, and what we're seeing now is just version one of the new Dropbox.