How Box is upping performance, design in its new iOS 7 app

Credit: Box

Box is releasing a new iPhone and iPad app today that aims to boost performance and deliver a refreshed UI. The company also revealed that it hired a new engineer to lead iOS development for Box who worked for Apple on the original iPhone and more recently at Path.

The company is releasing the iOS 7 app today and anyone who downloads it in the next 30 days gets 50GB of free storage for life.

Many of the changes in the app are about improved performance, said Martin Destagnol, who heads mobile engineering at Box. “We had to make the app blazing fast,” he said. To do that, Box decided not to use the CoreData database framework provided by Apple for caching. Instead, it used SQLite databases through C libraries, allowing for a much faster caching layer, he said.

For example, to load a PowerPoint slide faster, Box uses its own server side conversion technology, Destagnol said. “We use the power of the cloud to achieve a result you couldn’t without,” he said.

In addition, files like PowerPoint slides are rendered with very high fidelity in the new app, which enables some new use cases, he said. That means users will be able to present from their smartphones or tablets, which isn’t possible with the native document renderers in iOS, he said.

It also means users of the iOS 7 app will be able to see comments that colleagues have added to files and post comments from their phones or tablets.

Other new features include full search within documents, “real-time” search that highlights results in a document as users type the search terms, preview capabilities for over 100 file types, and the ability to move, copy, and delete multiple files at once.

Credit: Box
Reviewing comments in the Box iPhone app.

“We are really committed to making the user experience of this app the best in the world,” Destagnol said.

To help with that, Box late last year hired Mallory Paine to head up iOS development at Box. Paine was an engineer on the original iPhone and most recently was director of mobile engineering at Path.

That kind of engineering muscle is increasingly needed as mobile development for iOS has some new challenges. For instance, Destagnol noticed that there’s a bit of added fragmentation to iOS these days. Box had to design for iOS 7 on iPhone and iPad and also make some updates to iOS 6.

Plus, the Box apps that run in containers, like those from Good Technology and MobileIron, must be updated separately. Those apps aren’t ready yet and will arrive in the “coming months,” he said.

“It’s quite a challenge to make it work with all the different platforms,” Destagnol said.

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