Dec 072010
Image representing Eye-Fi as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

THE point of the always-connected internet is that your devices would all speak to one another wherever you went.

You wouldn’t need to be in the loop. Up-to-date information would pop up of its own accord whenever you woke your phone or other gizmo, banishing “update” or “check for new messages”. In practice, only email, contacts and calendars seem this well tied in, and even that only with certain services on certain phones. (The exception may be the new Windows Phone 7 which spools in social-networking, among other things, and provides the results at a glance in a dashboard-style display.)

There is, however, one device that provides a glimpse of the brave new world: the Eye-Fi, a digital camera storage and networking card. Made by a firm of the same name, it is a clever and compact combination of a CPU, storage, and Wi-Fi radio, all bundled into a Secure Digital (SD) camera card. The Eye-Fi transfers pictures using Wi-Fi networks as you take them. It is opportunistic: whenever an appropriate Wi-Fi network appears, it takes action based on your pre-set preferences. No further intervention is required. It works with any camera, functioning independently so long as the device is powered up. A nifty trick allows the card’s own computer to feed off a trickle of power fed to SD cards.

The Eye-Fi exhibits considerable autonomy, transferring data without the need to fatigue your fingers with all that clicking. That would, anyway, be difficult, because it lacks an interface when placed in most cameras (though some camera models now recognise an Eye-Fi card and offer limited interaction through onscreen menus). So, the designers had to ensure the device could cope with circumstances where its tiny computer was beyond a user’s reach.

You first configure an Eye-Fi card by plugging it into a computer using a card reader and adding passwords for known Wi-Fi networks. Some models offer the option to upload data automatically via AT&T’s 21,000 hotspots for free for up to a year. (An annual fee adds this option for other models; and it kicks in for all cards in subsequent years.) A separate partnership with Easy WiFi adds hundreds of thousands of free locations, as well as any subscription Wi-Fi services (such as Boingo Wireless) entered into an Easy WiFi Web account. Images and videos may be uploaded to any combination of photo-sharing services, a computer with Eye-Fi desktop software installed, and a recently launched hosting service operated by Eye-Fi. When passing through an airport or sitting at a Starbucks you only need to remember to power up the display-only mode in the camera, which allows the card to operate while using less power. (Cameras with the least Eye-Fi support can be set to stay powered up until all images are uploaded, bypassing power-saving modes. A few dozen cameras have this option.)

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