For tech companies, tis the season for cleaning house & killing apps

Now is the winter of tech companies’ discontent. By that I mean December is fast becoming the time of the year for tech companies to shutter apps and services that haven’t quite made their mark.
Most recently, LinkedIn has decided to fully discontinue its Pulse News reader application, which it first acquired back in 2013, on December 31. The move isn’t very surprising, considering that the company launched a completely overhauled version of Pulse (officially called LinkedIn Pulse) back in September that doesn’t look much at all like the old service.
Need more evidence that December is the month of cleaning? Well, it started with Dropbox’s announcement that it’s going to pull the plug on its Mailbox and Carousel apps. That revelation is supposed to help the company focus on collaboration features, like the business-focused Paper service, and finally give it the evidence it needs to prove that it’s more than just a feature.
Then it continued with Facebook shuttering its Creative Labs, which gave the company’s workers an outlet for their creative energies. (Or at least their desire to work on something tangential to the jolly blue giant — the products were mostly rip-offs.) The company also pulled all the Labs’ output from app stores.
Mozilla joined in the action earlier this afternoon. The company plans to stop developing and selling devices featuring its Firefox OS, which was designed to offer a cheaper, more open mobile platform. It also plans to “disentangle the technical infrastructure” of its Firefox browser and Thunderbird email client.
Soon it will lead to even more abandoned products. Oyster’s planning to “sunset” its all-you-can-read book service in January 2016 after much of its team was hired to work at Google. Outerwall, makers of DVD rental kiosks Redbox, isn’t getting killed — but as of today its stock certainly is after the company confirmed that business is way down. And while AOL’s dial-up (aka “membership”) business is still around, many of the folks employed to run that portion of the company were just “gifted” pink slips. Though it technically happened last month, Rdio finally threw in the towel, too.
At this point it wouldn’t be a surprise if even more products disappear. Blogger? AOL Instant Messenger? Facebook Paper? Yahoo News Digest? Chances are that most of us won’t even be able to think of the apps most likely to be put down: The problem with most of these services is that they’ve already been forgotten by so many people.

Unsurprisingly, Dropbox to shutter Mailbox and Carousel, focus on businesses

Dropbox has abandoned its efforts to take over your smartphone. The company announced today that it will shutter two applications, Mailbox and Carousel, in 2016 as a result of its new focus on helping workers collaborate with each other. But it’s hard to see how chasing business workers instead of targeting consumers will change Dropbox’s core problem: That it remains a feature convinced it was a product, then a startup, and then a company that’s raised more than $1 billion.
This isn’t a new argument. People have been saying that Dropbox is a feature instead of a product almost since the company’s file storage service first debuted. There’s no denying the convenience afforded by that service. Being able to trust that files would appear on multiple devices, or on the Web, without having to carry around a bunch of flash drives filled with important documents was huge. But was it a strong enough lodestone for a billion-dollar company to be built on?
In December 2009, Steve Jobs warned Dropbox co-founders Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi that Apple would compete with their service if they declined an acquisition offer. He kept that promise. Apple released iCloud in 2011. Google followed it with Google Drive in 2012. Microsoft introduced several cloud tools. And other companies like SpiderOak, Box, and Amazon introduced tools that either competed indirectly with Dropbox or operated on a much different scale.
Dropbox’s core feature is still as amazing as it was a few years ago. It’s just that no-one can purchase a smartphone, tablet, or laptop without being prompted to use a competitive service. Using an iPhone? Set up iCloud. Created a Google account because of that new Android tablet? Use Google Drive. Replacing that Windows ME-running hunk of plastic with a newer PC? Here, try OneDrive. People can use sync services without ever having to know that Dropbox exists.
The same is true of the services being shuttered. Mailbox was ahead of its time: I remember downloading the app, swiping through my inbox, and wondering how I could ever live with another email app. But then it languished, seemed to be ridden with bugs that were never fixed, and I switched to Gmail’s official app. Other companies improved their email apps all the while, with Apple updating Mail, Gmail tinkering with Inbox, and Microsoft debuting a brand-new Outlook.
Carousel also worked fine. But that was exactly the problem — it was just fine. All the cloud services that Dropbox competes with for file synchronization also offer photo storage services. Products like Google’s new (and popular) Photos service takes it a step further by automatically sorting images and generating montages. Carousel doesn’t do anything that iCloud, Photos, and other services don’t do. So why bother setting up a service that can, and now will, disappear any moment?
Now, Dropbox will focus on its business customers. That begins with services like Paper, a collaborative writing app, and new-yet-boring features like PDF-editing. Are either of those going to be enough to convince businesses to choose Dropbox over competitive services that do the same things? (There are many, like Google Docs and the Microsoft Office suite, for starters.) The company seems to think that focusing on these apps and shuttering its consumer products might help.
No matter what happens, you have to give Dropbox credit. It survived after Jobs warned it about its prospects in 2009. Then, when Farhad Manjoo wrote in 2012 that Jobs was right, Dropbox kept moving along. Now, three years after that, the company is in the same position. Critics keep saying it’s a feature, and Dropbox keeps proving them wrong — or delaying the inevitable. The question is which.

Here’s a quick way to get 1 free GB of Dropbox storage space: Sync with Mailbox
Sync your Mailbox iOS app with your Dropbox account (to do this, go to “Settings” in the Mailbox app and tap “Dropbox”) and you’ll immediately get 1 free GB of extra storage space in your Dropbox account, The Next Web found. I tried it, and it works. Dropbox acquired Mailbox in March (Mailbox Co-Founder Gentry Underwood will be speaking at our RoadMap conference).

Gmail adds another way to sort your email by what’s important

Want a new way to sort through all your email? No, it’s not another email startup coming your way. Gmail is adding a new way for you to view your emails which are sorted by type, in an effort to make getting through your messages even easier.