Dropbox has added new productivity features to its iOS application, as it attempts to make working on mobile devices as productive and efficient as working on desktop computers.

Among its new features is the ability to sign PDFs and share Dropbox files in iMessage while conversing with teammates on the go.

The company has also introduced a new lock screen widget that allows users to start workflows — such as create, scan, view, and upload images and documents — without having to unlock their mobile devices.

Users can also get real-time file updates — a notification is sent to users as soon as someone saves a new version of a file they’re viewing. A “refresh” button appears that users can tap to see what changes have been made to the file.

“The goal was to [contain] these workflows that involve multiple steps within the Dropbox app experience,” said Matt Pan, Group Product Manager for Dropbox’s File Collaboration Product Group, in an interview with TechRepublic.

“We are constantly building on top of the latest functionality iOS and different operating systems provide to create integrated experiences for our users.”

Other new features include the iPad Picture-in-Picture, which allows users to watch a video on Dropbox while using another app on their iPad — for example, an annotation app. In the coming weeks, Dropbox will also launch split-screen capabilities to allow users to work across multiple apps without having to toggle back and forth.

“The last two features are all about multitasking. We have a meaningful contingent of iPad users who are using Dropbox extensively for work productivity; and increasingly, they want the same multitasking [capabilities] that they get on desktop machines, on their iPad,” Pan told TechRepublic.

Pan said there is a new generation of workers who are primarily mobile users; and Dropbox’s new app features target the changing mindset and behaviour of these workers. This coincides with the rise of contingent workers. In 2015, 20 percent of the Fortune 500 workforce was made up of contingent workers. This number is expected to increase to 47 percent in 2017.

Another survey found that mobile devices increase productivity and responsiveness, and speed up the decision-making process. The “anytime, anywhere” work trend is set to increase with the number of smart mobile devices used at work and home expected to reach about 4.8 billion people globally by the end of this year, according to predictions made by Forrester at end of last year.

Business teams now expect to be able to run applications on their mobile devices including content sharing, collaboration, and unified communications. Mobile is preferred over desktop computers for executives and decision-makers conducting business research during and after office hours, according to the IDG Global Mobile Survey 2014.

Pan said people don’t only want mobile productivity, but also paperless offices, adding that there was a significant uptake of the DocScanner tool that was launched in June this year.

At present, Dropbox boasts half a billion users worldwide, including 8 million businesses, of which 200,000 are paying business customers.

Speaking broadly, Pan said there are two key characteristics of the companies that adopt Dropbox — companies with heterogeneous working environments, where employees use different devices, operating systems and applications; and companies that collaborate internally with different departments, and externally with other businesses. Media, technology, education, CPG/retail, and professional services are the industries that Dropbox has experienced the most traction in.

Pan said user and design research is a significant part of its ideation process.

“We have a series of research efforts where we either bring in people from outside into our offices or we go and sit with people at their desks and ask [structured questions] around a certain theme. In this case, it was around mobile productivity. We use that as a source of ideation for what type of products we can build,” he said.

“More recently, we’ve seen a lot of traction in the workplace. We are in constant conversations with CIOs, decision makers and IT administrators, as well as a lot of end users within businesses about how they work, what is and isn’t working, what pain-points they have, what kind of [functionality] they want to see from Dropbox. We take all of that and synthesise it with a very comprehensive design process.”

Thomas Hansen, Dropbox’s global VP for revenue, who flew over from Silicon Valley to Sydney last week, told TechRepublic that this interview process allows the company to not only be reactive, but also proactive about what features to build.

“It allows us to bring forward both a short-term product roadmap as well as a longer range product strategy around where we’re going to invest and align our resources,” said Hansen.

He pointed out that roles have changed between IT leaders and the rest of the company, adding that the end user has far more of a role in choosing what works for them.

“IT then implements [those tools] into the business. This opposed to the more conventional way of IT making choices and then rolling them out and telling [business teams] what to do,” Hansen said.

Earlier this year, Dropbox opened up the beta version of a new product called Paper to the public. Hansen described it as “a blank sheet where you can be creative, where you can drive ideation, where you can debate.”

“It’s a real-time collaborative workspace that allows you to drop content from any other app or program into a white space and collaborate with others,” he added.

“I come from a work style that relies heavily on emails, which is no longer an effective way to collaborate. Paper has changed the way I work. I have reduced email traffic by somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters.”

In 2014, Dropbox was valued at $10 billion following a $250 million funding round. Today, Dropbox is free cash flow positive, according to Hansen who joined the company in mid-2015 after 14 years at Microsoft.

“This means our continued investment in innovation and bringing greater value to market is actually fuelled by our customers. We’re in a good strong place,” he said.

Moving forward, Dropbox will continue to invest in its infrastructure and products, while building key partnerships with tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, HPE, and IBM.

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