Dropbox to Limit Free Accounts to Three Devices; Here’s Why This Is a Problem

Dropbox has announced that users of free accounts will no longer be able to link more than three devices to their accounts. Those who had linked more devices prior to March 2019 will be able to continue to use them, but will not be able to link any additional devices.

There are lots of problems with this. Dropbox became quasi-ubiquitous because if its free accounts; anyone can sign up for a 2 GB account and use it to share files. This is especially practical because many people need to work with shared folders created by, say, employers or clients, who need to share files with them. Many Dropbox users don’t use the service very much; those who do, and who need a lot of storage, upgrade to the paid plan, of which there is only one: 1 TB for $10 a month. (There is also a 2 TB plan, and a Business plan, for companies with lots of users.)

The problem here is the old bait and switch; for years, Dropbox has promoted its free service, and now it’s imposing a limit. It’s true that, for many users, this three-device limit will not be a problem, but for others it will. I have five devices linked to my Dropbox account: my iMac (my main computer), my MacBook Pro (my secondary computer), my iPhone, iPad, and a Mac mini server. Actually, there are more; an Android phone I use for testing, and an iPad mini I use for reading occasionally. I don’t need the last two, but in my work I do use the others.

I’d be happy to pay for Dropbox, and have said so for years, but I don’t use it enough for it to be worthwhile. I currently have 25 GB storage on my free account; that’s the 2 GB I got initially, plus lots of bonuses for referrals, for driving customers to Dropbox. I use about half that.

Back around 2014-15, I took out a pro subscription with 1 TB, but there was no way I could make it worthwhile. I don’t need 1 TB, and even if I did, it wouldn’t fit on my Macs; I could put that much data on an external drive connected to my iMac, but now my MacBook Pro. (Yes, I know, selective sync; but I still don’t need that much storage.)

The problem is that Dropbox doesn’t have a low-priced, low-GB plan. I’d happily pay, say, $20 a year for 100 GB, because I am aware that I’ve been getting this service for free for many years. But I’m not spending $100 a year.

There are alternatives: on the Mac and iOS, there’s iCloud Drive, but you can’t share folders. There’s Google Drive, OneDrive, etc., and I have access to both of these through a GSuite (30 GB) and Office365 (1 TB) account. But there are apps that use Dropbox to store settings or data, and may not be able to use iCloud Drive or another service for that.

I know what Dropbox is doing; they’re saying that they don’t care about all these little customers who built the service. They just want to focus on business customers; because, aside from professionals, not many people need 1 TB cloud storage. It’s just a shame that they’re doing it this way.

10 thoughts on “Dropbox to Limit Free Accounts to Three Devices; Here’s Why This Is a Problem

    • There’s lots of alternatives. But none of them change the fact that pretty much every company I work with uses Dropbox.

  1. And don’t forget Condoleeza Rice, a war criminal from the Bush administration, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Iraq, is on the board of directors of Dropbox. Can’t see how that adds to the value of Dropbox, free or otherwise.

  2. I cannot help but think the number of devices allowed has been very carefully thought out. 3 seems big enough to make them sound very generous, but is actually not quite big enough for serious use as many users these days will likely have 4 devices. Like Kirk I use an iPhone, iPad, MacBook and another main Mac (Pro in my case). That makes this new limit a real problem as Dropbox is used to sync files used by important apps and utilities that I use, e.g. 1Password and the whole point of using something like that is precisely due to its ability to keep all your devices in sync. If one of my devices is no longer able to do that, I’m stuffed.

    So 3 devices sounds great, but is just sufficiently too low to continue being effective and hence (they hope) encourage you to upgrade. Like I said, very carefully thought out.

    • I agree. But they’re missing a trick. People who don’t use Dropbox for the storage, like me, and perhaps you, will either give it up or find another solution, instead of paying for a subscription like Dropbox Basic, at what we consider affordable.

  3. I don’t think you can call it “bait n switch” when they waited 10 years to do the switch, and they grandfathered in existing multi-device users. In the classic bait-n-switch, the car dealers didn’t let you drive the promo model for 10 years before they switched you ;>)

    It seems to me that this change is just a result of the market evolving differently than Dropbox thought it would. They probably expected for people to be storing a lot more media files on Dropbox and that everyone would eventually run into the storage limits. They didn’t foresee iCloud Photos and that most people are storing their media therein.

    Given that, they needed to adjust their business model. To their credit, as far as I know, they have never done data mining, even when they had a trove of data from the Mailbox acquisition. They could have just went that route, and it’s a good thing they didnt.

    The freemium model is one where most users get the service for free, and the power users pay a fee. With this change, Dropbox simply changed their definition of power-user to include people with more than 3 devices. With more than 3 devices, you’re a power user. As you stated, the vast majority of folks have 3 devices or less and won’t be affected. The notion that Dropbox doesn’t care about the “little customers” and wants to focus on “business users” doesn’t align with the fact that “little customers” don’t need more than 3 devices. In fact, in your comments you say that “every company I work with uses Dropbox”, so you are actually a business user.

    That said, it seems like the most logical pricing change they could have added with this change would be to charge a fee per extra device. That would presumably be much less than the $10/mo.

    • Business users are really employees of companies. In most cases, companies who use Dropbox store huge amounts of files there, and there employees need access to a variety of files. In my case, as a freelancer, I simply need to share a folder for simplified file transfer, as well as access a limited number of assets for the work I do. Again, I don’t need anywhere near the amount of storage space that comes with the basic plan, which makes it an expense I’m not willing to pay.

  4. As for me, this problem could be easily solved. The third-party app CloudMounter allows connecting Dropbox account from an unlimited amount of devices.

  5. My problem is that Dropbox obviously incurs an an ongoing cost for providing storage but I don’t see how multiple devices cost them much at all. To be honest they can shove it.

Leave a Reply to Kirk McElhearn Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.