A closely watched Silicon Valley startup is releasing its first product today: the Eye-Fi memory card, which will give ordinary digital cameras a wireless link to computers and the Net.
A handful of cameras on the market already have built-in Wi-Fi transmitters. But the new $100 card will work with any digital camera that uses a secure-digital (SD) memory card. Since that’s the majority of cameras on the market today, Eye-Fi’s device potentially opens the technology to the mass market.
Depending on how the user configures it, the card automatically beams photos directly from the camera to a computer or uploads them to a photo-sharing site such as Flickr or Shutterfly. The Eye-Fi card is aimed at photographers who tend to leave used memory cards lying around, losing them or forgetting about them before downloading their contents.
“Our focus from the beginning has been less about whether this is cool technology, or sexy, and more about how we can actually make this process easier for people,” says Yuval Koren, one of Eye-Fi’s cofounders.
Can point-and-shoot digital photography really be made any easier? Koren and his Eye-Fi colleagues believe that the tools for sharing photos with others haven’t kept pace with the technologies in the cameras themselves.
In explaining Eye-Fi’s origin, Koren describes going to a wedding in New York several years ago. All the guests took pictures and promised to swap digital copies after they’d returned home. But almost none of them did.
The little Eye-Fi card is designed to help people over that hump, by making the sharing as automatic as possible.
To configure the card, the user inserts it into an accompanying USB card reader, which must be plugged into an open USB port on a computer. A setup menu allows the user to select a local Wi-Fi network and to determine whether the card will upload pictures to the computer, directly to one of 17 photo-sharing or social-networking sites, or to both. Although the card will recognize only one network at a time, the setup procedure can be repeated on multiple networks–say, at home, at work, and at a friend’s house. The user can then switch between networks or change the pictures’ destination from Eye-Fi’s website, without hooking the card back up to a computer.
Once the card is set up, the user simply snaps it into the camera. Thereafter, whenever the camera is on and in range of the selected wireless network, uploading will begin automatically.
All uploaded photos pass through Eye-Fi’s own servers, which make sure the images are the right size and resolution for the destination site. (While some photo-sharing sites store high-resolution pictures, others limit users to relatively low resolutions.) If the user’s computer is off when the card logs on to the network, Eye-Fi’s servers store the uploaded images until the computer is online again.