Box wants to be a platform for easy-to-write enterprise apps

Apps built with Box Developer Edition won't require users to have a Box account

An upcoming watermarking feature from Box will be able to write a user's name and email address and the date across an image whenever they do something with it.

An upcoming watermarking feature from Box will be able to write a user's name and email address and the date across an image whenever they do something with it.

A developer edition of Box will allow enterprises to build applications on top of the company's content collaboration and sharing capabilities without using the Box user interface or requiring users to have a Box account.

The announcement of the Developer Edition at the Box Dev conference is the company's latest step beyond its legacy as a storage, sync and sharing service and toward its higher calling as a platform company. Box aims to provide cloud resources like big names such as Amazon Web Services do, but with additional features that take more work off developer's plate when creating an enterprise application.

Since it went public in January, Box has been under scrutiny for signs of a path to profit. Box's traditional service is up against competing products, such as Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, from bigger companies with other ways to make money. That makes cloud storage by itself a commodity business with brutal price competition, so the company is reaching higher with more differentiated features, said Chris Yeh, senior vice president of product and platform, in an interview at Box Dev.

Box Developer Edition provides an independent, developer-owned instance of Box on which enterprises can build a custom interface. Users can create an account within the enterprise app and don't need to sign up for Box. The applications carry the enterprise's branding out front, but on the back end they can use Box's encryption, regulatory compliance, collaboration, text search and other capabilities, the company says. Audit trails track use.

The tool can help companies quickly develop collaborative applications that let users share content, said Heidi Williams, senior director of platform engineering. She gave the example of Exitround, an anonymous online marketplace for technology mergers and acquisitions. Exitround was able to set up file sharing among would-be buyers and sellers with access controls for different roles, she said. Box Developer Edition is in closed beta.

Box already provides APIs (application programming interfaces) that let third-party tools such as Microsoft Office 365 tap into Box for certain capabilities. The Developer Edition would bring Box into the foundation of the app itself.

Also at Box Dev, the company announced more mobile SDKs (software development kits) for adding Box features into applications. The new Browse, Share and Preview SDKs add capabilities from Box for each of those actions. They can be added one by one to keep apps as small as possible when other features aren't needed. The Browse and Share SDKs are available now and the Preview SDK is coming soon, Box said.

Looking into the future, Box showed off upcoming features for working with content. A watermarking function will leave a mark whenever a user does anything with a file, writing the user's name and email address and a time stamp across an image, for example. The company also showed off interactive 3D viewing technology from Verold, a startup that Box acquired earlier this month.

Box also gained access to what could be a lucrative platform on Wednesday as Google announced it will integrate Box with its Chromebook laptops. That step will let Chromebook users access files on Box as easily as they can on Google's own cloud storage services.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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