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A new mode in Eye-Fi X2 cards let you rely images through a smartphone using a neat trick: I'm a long-time fan of the Eye-Fi digital camera cards that pack a CPU, a Wi-Fi radio, and now up to 8 GB of storage into an SD or SDHC form factor. The Eye-Fi line is regularly updated to add features like transfer of RAW images or video files, or endless storage, in which images already wirelessly transferred to another location can be deleted when storage is needed. (I haven't erased my Eye-Fi camera card since that feature came out. I simply don't need to know what's on the card any more.)
Direct Mode is another in that array of improvements, and it requires a little explanation. Eye-Fi may be a bit breezy in describing the feature, which requires you to think a bit differently about how the card works.
In regular operation, an Eye-Fi card looks to a camera precisely like any memory card. Whenever the Eye-Fi recognizes a Wi-Fi network it knows about, it connects, and starts to carry out whatever operations were waiting for access, such as uploading files to a computer or sharing service. This works whether the network in question is a home network for which you've stored a password, a public network to which you have access through an Eye-Fi subscription, or a free network tied in via Eye-Fi's relationship with Devicescape's Easy WiFi service.
But in Direct Mode, the card will transform from a Wi-Fi client into a Wi-Fi hotspot, but not for just any device to connect. Rather, if you have a smartphone or tablet with the Eye-Fi software running (available for iOS and Android initially), the app connects to the card over Wi-Fi, and images are transferred over. You can use a 3G-equipped device to relay and upload images and movies, or transfer media and then connect via Wi-Fi to a network to upload that data from the app. The mobile app can copy media over the Internet to whatever computer with which you paired the Eye-Fi—the one to which over a local network the card sends files—as well as an online sharing or social-networking site you've picked from Eye-Fi's partners.
Direct Mode was announced with more details alongside the release of the Mobile X2, part of a reshuffling of the Eye-Fi line up, which now comprises Connect X2, Mobile X2, and Pro X2. The Connect has 4 GB and costs $50, while the Mobile has 8 GB and costs $80. That's their only difference. The Pro at $150 and with 8 GB of storage adds RAW file handling, and including a geotagging and a 1-year hotspot subscription. While RAW is restricted to the Pro model, you can add geotagging to Connect or Mobile for $30 (one-time fee), and hotspot access for $30/yr.
Direct Mode will be a firmware upgrade for all current and past X2 models in a few weeks, according to Eye-Fi.
Eye-Fi View provides Web-based access to recent uploads: Eye-Fi is a long-time favorite product of mine. The company scrunched a Wi-Fi radio, computer, and storage into a Secure Digital (SD) card, and has regularly updated capabilities. The current line-up, X2, has 802.11n, endless memory (auto-delete threshold after confirmed uploads), and other features. I use mine constantly; I haven't had to plug my camera or its card into a computer in months. (Eye-Fi cards are available at significant discounts off the retail price at Amazon.com.)
The latest update for X2 users is to Eye-Fi View, a Web site for viewing your recent uploads from anywhere that's tied in with the company's sync and management software Eye-Fi Central. (That software itself is a great update from the previous tool that used a Web browser, and was functional but clunky.) Eye-Fi View allows access to your images and videos at up to their full resolution to anyone to whom you send a private URL.
The service retains the last seven days of uploads at no cost. For $5/mo or $50/yr, you can upgrade to Eye-Fi Premium, which allows unlimited storage with no expiration of links or photos and videos. Eye-Fi View isn't enabled by default, otherwise you'd be uploading your pictorial evidence to Eye-Fi's servers without your consent—a bad idea, regardless of whether the photos and videos remain private or not. Eye-Fi View uploads to Eye-Fi Center, a Web site with the same name as the firm's computer software.
What does Eye-Fi bring to the table that Flickr Pro (at $25/yr) does not? Flickr Pro offer unlimited uploads and storage at full resolution for both images and videos. Flickr allows private sharing to groups you define (friends, family, or private groups you create). The public side of Flickr allows wide access to the rest of the net. I've had some of my images viewed thousands of times, which is gratifying.
However, sharing photos privately is a pain on Flickr if the group isn't identical each time. This is the same problem on many other sharing services, too, that assume either you want everyone to see pictures, or a group that's well defined and remains constant over time.
Eye-Fi View/Central are organized around simplicity (one control panel that automatically uploads), privacy, and changing members of the groups you want to share with. I'm not sure that's worth the $25/yr premium, but the market will decide that.
One advantage of Eye-Fi is that you can set this up for a friend or family member who doesn't want to have to hassle with photo transfers and such. The latest version can be configured to connect to a home's Wi-Fi network, and with endless memory, computer syncing, and Eye-Fi View, there's no management involved. (I've recently heard from several friends that their older parents have broadband for when their grown-up children visit! They rarely use it themselvs.)
Also announced today was an upgrade to allow Pro/Pro X2 owners to upload Raw format image files to an FTP server, which I'm sure photographers who work from that unprocessed style will find makes the Eye-Fi substantially more useful if FTP is part of their workflow.
And the online sharing and geotagging upgrades that can be added to less expensive models of Eye-Fi now can be purchased within Eye-Fi Center (the software not the Web site), and with lifetime prices of $20 for sharing and $30 for geotagging.
Two of my favorite companies are working together: Eye-Fi is updating its line of SD card-based Wi-Fi adapters to use Devicescape's automated hotspot login system. This is extremely neat, because otherwise, those hotspots are unavailable for login. Eye-Fi offers a network of 21,000 locations via AT&T (formerly Wayport, which AT&T acquired) already, where the card automatically detects and logs in. The Devicescape deal opens up the card to hundreds of thousands of additional locations.
Devicescape doesn't sell access, but rather lets you store all your network credentials via an account you maintain on its Web site. Any device or computer you use with Devicescape software obtains the right credentials for login when you're at a location in the network. Devicescape also characterizes and provides automated login for open and free locations that would otherwise have a button to check or page to navigate through.
Eye-Fi includes one year of hotspot access in its Explore X2 and Pro X2 models, and those cards will gain access to Devicescape's service in May. On 1 June, you can purchase a year of hotspot service for other cards for $30/yr. Eye-Fi has a special offer until 31 May for Connect X2 and Geo X2 users for $15/yr.
The Geo X2 was announced today, too; it's an Apple Store exclusive. For $70, the 4 GB card includes geolocation, and works seamlessly with Apple's iPhoto software and MobileMe service to transfer pictures and movies. The card also includes the Endless Memory features that deletes images and videos as space is needed that have been confirmed as transferred off the card.
Yes, I know already as a father one shouldn't play favorites. But in the Wi-Fi space, there are some clever firms I've been talking to practically since they started developing products and services in the space. Eye-Fi and Devicescape are two of that select group.
Eye-Fi took an ordinary item, the SD card, and embedded a processor and Wi-Fi radio alongside memory. The company continually improves cards' firmware and desktop software, as well as providing additional useful add-ons. It remains extraordinary to me that camera manufacturers have generally not been able to offer a fraction of what Eye-Fi can with its substantially fewer resources. An increasing number of cameras support specific Eye-Fi features and needs (such as not powering down the camera while transfers are in progress). Eye-Fi is the platinum standard for the industry, while most camera makers are struggling for bronze.
Devicescape has spent years trying to remove the need for users of mobile devices to have to enter tedious data, and enabled equipment with just a few buttons and no touch screen or keyboard to gain access to hotspots that would otherwise be unavailable. Its approach and software should have had an open embrace from Apple in the iPhone OS, and by other phone and gadget makers. Devicescape is still pushing this "many logins, many hotspots, no fuss" approach with new improvements all the time.
On the heels of shipping its Eye-Fi Pro X2 cards, Eye-Fi has revamped its main product line: The X2 technology is now embedded in all its current product line, which has been simplified to three products, all of which offer more features and capacities at lower prices than the previous product line-up. The company has also expanded its hotspot deal to cover all 20,000+ AT&T locations (starting 31 March 2010).
The Connect X2 ($49.99) is a 4 GB SDHD card that uploads JPEGs and videos to a computer and one of 25 photo-sharing and social-media sites with which Eye-Fi has partnered.
The Explore X2 ($99.99) stores 8 GB of images and videos, and adds eternal Wi-Fi–based geotagging (via Skyhook Wireless), and one year of hotspot uploading.
The Pro X2 ($149.99) announced earlier this year has all the Explore features, plus RAW photo format upload support and ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection capability (to transfer images to a laptop without an access point around).
Eye-Fi continues to sell the Eye-Fi Geo ($59.95) exclusively via Apple. It has 2 GB of storage.
Hotspot service can be purchased separately for the Connect X2 for $14.99 per year (as well as for older models that Eye-Fi will continue to support), as well as renewed in the future for the Explore X2 and Pro X2.
All three models support 802.11b/g/n, Class 6 data transfer rates over USB (48 Mbps), and feature what Eye-Fi calls Endless Memory. When a card starts to approach capacity, whether it's connected to the Internet or a local network or not, it deletes the oldest items that have been confirmed as delivered to a computer.
As I have written many times before, there's nothing quite like the Eye-Fi. None of the built-in Wi-Fi support on any camera comes close to what Eye-Fi offers. Several camera makers have enabled special support for the Eye-Fi in specific models--Canon and Casio have a fairly large list. This support is mostly remaining powered up until all images are transferred, although some models have additional features such as an onscreen activity indicator.
This refresh to the product line makes the Eye-Fi a better deal again by boosting capacity and features, offering a great entry-level price, and making it simpler to decide among models.
Eye-Fi has added a new high-end Wi-Fi card for digital cameras, updated its software, and added an auto-delete option: I've been a fan of the Eye-Fi, a Secure Digital (SD) format memory card with Wi-Fi embedded since its release. But I've always had some nits to pick about how it works. Over time, Eye-Fi has addressed most of these.
The last appear to be resolved in the release of new software, and a new high-end card, the Pro X2. The software is available today, and pre-orders for the Pro X2 are being taken online now.
The Pro X2 (list $150) shifts its Wi-Fi to 802.11n, almost certainly the single-stream variety, which improves range and speed separately and together. The card includes 8 GB of storage, and is rated Class 6 for its read/write speed. This is a leap from 4 GB with its Pro card (see a comparison of all Eye-Fi cards).
The card supports all the Pro options, too, including ad hoc Wi-Fi connections, RAW downloads, hotspot access for 1 year, and Wi-Fi position-based geotagging. The Pro was formerly $150; the new pricing wasn't available as I write this.
Coupled with the new card is revised software for working with the Eye-Fi. Until now, Eye-Fi has relied on agent software that creates a local Web server for handling configuration. The new software is a desktop application, which among other features will let you publish photos to multiple online locations simultaneously instead of choosing a single photo or social-media site. All Eye-Fi owners can use the new software.
Eye-Fi also introduces a new feature the company calls Endless Memory, and which I would describe as "delete as needed." The original Eye-Fi firmware would upload all JPEGs. Later revisions added models that handle RAW and movie files, as well as giving all user selective uploads. (You use the protect or lock function on your camera to select images for the Eye-Fi to upload.)
Endless Memory adds the final missing piece, which is automatic deletion as necessary of verified uploaded images and movies when space is needed for new material. For a photographer with a hotspot subscription or a laptop nearby for uploads, you could shoot, well, endlessly.
Eye-Fi updates its software to allow secure and unsecured FTP transfers: It's funny how long it can take to get the basics in place, but Eye-Fi has finally added a feature that should make many digital photographers happy. Eye-Fi's digital media cards that sport an internal Wi-Fi radio can now transfer images via unsecured FTP and FTP over SSL/TLS. A card with the Online Sharing option is required; that option can be separately activated on some cards, and is included with other models.
FTP is an ancient and extremely common method of file transfer, requiring very little fuss to move data around. Early Wi-Fi support in expensive pro cameras relied on FTP because there wasn't any other reasonable mechanism to move files around. It's taken a few years to get back to the same point.
FTP lacks intrinsic security, but can have security options layered on top. FTP over SSL/TLS relies on a secured tunnel being created--precisely like a tunnel used for a secure Web session--after which FTP can flow without anyone between the two end points being able to sniff FTP passwords or data.
Some people use FTP as the basis of automation operations. You set a watch file that's accessible via FTP, and as images are loaded into that file, actions are performed on images, such as auto-correcting and resizing, or adding to an online gallery.
I complained the other day that camera manufacturers weren't integrating support for Eye-Fi's Wi-Fi SD cards: But that's not quite right: a few camera makers have the religion. Eye-Fi is the only generic solution to moving images (and now video) from a camera to a computer or photo-sharing service via Wi-Fi. The market seems to me huge, and Eye-Fi continues to expand models, features, and distribution channels, as well as upload partners. This makes me think the market is robust, too.
However, no competing product has entered the field. Eye-Fi is a startup, and you might expect another firm--a memory-card maker, certainly--would add up the potential and try to compete. It has not happened after nearly 2 years of product in the market.
Camera makers should thus wake up: if they can't properly integrate Wi-Fi into the firmware and hardware of their cameras--and I'd argue no Wi-Fi equipped camera below the expensive professional level has yet done so--then the only reasonable partner is Eye-Fi.
Eye-Fi has two limitations in operating as a separately functioning computer-on-a-card independent of the camera's gear. First, a camera's standard power-down operation will remove the power to the card before all uploads have completed in many cases. I upgraded my Wi-Fi network by moving to 802.11n, and that reduced congestion and seems to make the Eye-Fi cards I use--which have 802.11g built in--more efficient at uploading.
Second, the camera can't alert the user that the uploads have completed. Eye-Fi gets around this with notification services via email or SMS that you can set up for each card. But a ding or dialog would go a lot further.
Eye-Fi has a page at its site that I was unaware of that lists all the camera models that have Eye-Fi integration. This includes 5 recent Casio models that signal whether an Eye-Fi is inserted, allow Wi-Fi to be turned on or off, that stay powered up until uploads are completed, and which indicate transfers in process.
I expect it's a multi-year process for Eye-Fi to convince cameramakers that the company will be around in the long term, that it is sui generis for Wi-Fi digital cards, and that firmware integration enhances the value of a new camera (i.e., more sales from people who thus need the new cameras) instead of pushing money over to Eye-Fi that the makers would rather keep themselves.
Eye-Fi has added a fifth member to its product matrix, the Pro which supports RAW format uploads, direct computer transfer: Eye-Fi's list of options is getting a little longer than makes sense for a simple product, but the distinction between Pro and the others is clear. If you need to upload anything but JPEGs, you need the Pro card (street $150, 4 GB, SDHD). Maybe professionals and plenty of amateur photographers prefer the loosely-defined RAW format (not a standard) in which the quirks of the image sensors aren't smoothed out. This allows better post-capture correction.
An additional feature found only in Pro is allowing transfers using the Wi-Fi ad hoc mode. All Wi-Fi base stations and some software found in operating systems or added on use infrastructure mode, which hub and spoke. Each station (a spoke) communicates via a coordinating access point (the hub). In ad hoc mode, however, all devices are equal players and there's no central coordinating point. (Ad hoc mode is also responsible for the ubiquitous Free WiFi networks you see at airports, because if you're not connected to a network and ever used an ad hoc network, you broadcast the ad hoc names under Windows XP and some other OS's.)
Ad hoc mode is useful for photographers, because it means they can transfer images directly to a laptop or computer they have with them without having to also have a gateway. Mac OS X offers both a software base station mode and ad hoc networking, but Windows only has ad hoc built in for direct transfers. One year of hotspot access is included at Wayport operated locations. (Eye-Fi says 10,000 hotspots, but given Wayport has merged into AT&T, does that mean that the 7,000 Starbucks and thousands of others are excluded?)
Eye-Fi also updated all its models to support Selective Transfer. With this new mode, any image marked as protected or locked (depending on camera firmware options) will be uploaded, while all other images will not. That's a clever way around the fact that only one high-end digital camera so far talks directly to the Eye-Fi card. I was really expecting at least one camera maker to integrate Eye-Fi as an offering, using the firmware as a way to enable more features. Ah, well; camera makers aren't known for understanding what users want out of image transferring over Wi-Fi.
Selective Transfer is available through a firmware update via the Eye-Fi Manager. Connect your Eye-Fi card via a USB card reader and run the update to get the new feature.
Eye-Fi has defined its featureset as seven items, all of which are part of Pro: JPEG uploads, online sharing, video uploads, geotagging, hotspot access, ad hoc transfers, and RAW uploads. As you move down through the matrix, fewer features are found, but the cards cost less, too. Cards start at $50 for transfers only to a networked computer (not via ad hoc) with the 2 GB Home model. You can upgrade cards that lack webshare, hotspot access, and geotagging for $10, $15, and $15 per year, respectively.
Eye-Fi has revised its line-up of Secure Digital Wi-Fi/memory cards that work with any camera to include higher capacities, video upload: The new video upload feature is included on two new 4 GB cards that will ship in March, and allow direct uploads to YouTube and Flickr. The two models are $80 for the 4 GB Share Video and $100 for the 4 GB Explore Video. The 4 GB models require a camera compatible with SDHC, the revision to SD that supports capacities larger than 2 GB.
The product line remains divided into three segments, all with new pricing. The 2 GB Home model ($50) uploads just over a local network. The 2 GB Share and 4 GB Share Video models ($60 and $80) work over any configured network with no encryption, WEP, or WPA/WPA2 Personal. The 4 GB Explore ($100) offers geotagging based on Wi-Fi positioning provided by Skyhook Wireless, and one year of uploads at Wayport hotspots.
All Eye-Fi cards are designed to upload JPEG files, and can be used as conventional memory cards, too. Eye-Fi cards can't handle other formats, such as RAW, at this point.
Eye-Fi is releasing a free iPhoto program tomorrow designed for Eye-Fi users that will support iPhoto photo uploading and organization on a local computer. It's a nice idea, as I find myself managing Eye-Fi and iPhoto uploads in a confusing and separate manner currently.
Sony has introduced the DSC-G3 with a browser: This Wi-Fi enabled camera includes a browser, which Sony assures us makes it easy to gain access to hotspots. The camera includes access until 31-Jan-2012 to a special upload site via AT&T's hotspot network, the Sony Easy Upload Home Page.
Because if there's two things that digital photographers want, it's another photograph/video upload interface to learn and configure, and the ability to type in user names and passwords into a tiny tiny tiny Web browser. Goodness knows, I've been waiting for that.
Sony joins the other Wi-Fi enabled camera makers in creating a problem where a solution exists: multiple companies (Boingo and Devicescape leap foremost to mind) have figured out how to uniquely identify devices and enable no-entry logins at hotspots through an external account.
But Sony gave us a browser. Hurrah.
The camera has 4 GB of built-in memory, and uses the increasingly less-standard Memory Stick format for additional storage. The 10-megapixel, 4x optical zoom camera with Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens has a 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD, and is available today for $500.
Amazon.com is offering a so-called Black Friday special on Eye-Fi Share:
The 2 GB Wi-Fi-enabled Secure Digital card normally runs $90; it's $65 while the sale lasts.
Given that Eye-Fi introduced a limited-time-only 4 GB "Anniversary" model that replaced the 2 GB Share version in its current line-up, and that the Anniversary model was $130 list but $100 for Costco members, it's pretty clear that the 2 GB won't re-appear, the 4 GB model will drop in price, and Amazon's acting as a clearance center.
The Eye-Fi Share lets you upload pictures over a local network to a designated computer, or upload via a Wi-Fi network for which the Eye-Fi is configured to connect over the Internet to Eye-Fi's servers, and from there to a specified photo-sharing, social-network, or photo-printing service.
I'm a fan of the Eye-Fi, although I favor the currently $130 Explore model (see my review), which comes with geotagging (via Skyhook Wireless) and adds a year of included uploading via Wayport locations (now part of AT&T).
The Wi-Fi sharing digital memory card Eye-Fi adds another option for its product line: If you've purchased or plan to purchase an Eye-Fi, starting 5-Oct-2008, you can upgrade the model of card you purchased by paying a yearly subscription fee. This provides more of a try-and-see mode for Eye-Fi's slightly more expensive offerings.
Eye-Fi divided its Wi-Fi SD card line-up into three parts earlier in the year: Home, which transfers to a computer ($80); Share, which uploads to a computer and to Eye-Fi's servers, which relay them to gallery, print, and social services ($100); and Explore, which ties in Wi-Fi positioning and one year of a Wayport hotspot subscription for uploads ($130). I wrote a long review of the Eye-Fi Explore on 12-Aug-2008.
If you bought a Home, you can upgrade to the Share service for $10 per year, and if you bought either a Home or Share, you can add geotagging for $15 per year and hotspot access for $15 per year. It's a smart move, since original Eye-Fi card buyers already had a firmware upgrade that converted their card into a Share model; they'll now be able upgrade to the full featureset. This is something I thought the company was offering at launch months ago, and I speculated it would be easy to add.
Eye-Fi also added two new photo sharing services: Apple's MobileMe and AdoramaPix. I cannot think of any other firm that Apple has partnered with to allow direct MobileMe uploads, although this may be technically less a big deal than it sounds. But I believe it's unique--only the iPhone and iPhoto software can transfers images into MobileMe's galleries; I'll need to investigate further. It's a good feather in Eye-Fi's cap.
Finally, Eye-Fi says they'll release tweaked firmware on 5-Oct as well that will double the speed of photo transfers from their cards to a computer on the local network.
I'm running a link to this story solely to avoid confusion among readers: Eye-Fi signed a partnership deal with Lexar several months ago that should lead to Eye-Fi technology being embedded in Lexar cards. Lexar works closely with so many camera makers and others that it was a smart move for Eye-Fi to link up, as Eye-Fi is selling its smarts as the value-add, not so much the hardware that the smarts are embedded in for now.
Obviously, as a practical stage one, Lexar is selling a private-label Eye-Fi Share as the Lexar Shoot-n-Sync using. Same price, same features.
What I'm waiting for, which will likely take into 2009, is for Lexar and Eye-Fi to announce partnerships with a major camera maker or two that will allow the Lexar or Eye-Fi card to talk directly to the camera to control battery savings mode, as well as other details. Conceivably, a camera that supports an external GPS (like the new Nikon D90) could allow the Eye-Fi to retrieve coordinates and perform assistive GPS using its Wi-Fi positioning software, and so forth. There's a lot of potential.
After spending two weeks with the $130 Eye-Fi Explore Wi-Fi memory card, I'm a fan: The Eye-Fi Explore was introduced in July by the eponymous firm to support geotagging - embedding latitude and longitude into photo metadata - and easier uploading of images. The Eye-Fi Explore is a Secure Digital (SD) card with 2 GB of storage, a tiny computer, and a Wi-Fi radio. The Explore uses Skyhook Wireless's Wi-Fi positioning data combined with Wayport's network of 10,000 hotspots, mostly McDonald's, along with revised firmware and software that dramatically improves the experience of uploading photos.
The company shuffled its products into three versions several weeks ago: Eye-Fi Home ($80), which uploads only to a specific computer over a local network; Eye-Fi Share ($100), a rebranded version identical to its first offering last year, which can upload to photo-sharing services or a computer or both; and the Explore. (You can purchase the Eye-Fi Explore from Amazon.com, as well as the other models.)
I reviewed the Explore as a geotagging system for The Seattle Times this last Saturday; I'd reviewed the original Eye-Fi (now Eye-Fi Share) for them last year as well. You can read that review for my take on geotagging, or skip to the bottom of this review, as well.
The hardware is apparently the same or nearly so, and it works just as well as it did last year. The biggest improvements, however, are a few workflow tweaks that make it far easier to manage and track uploads of pictures without draining your camera's batteries down to zero.
Nikon announces new Wi-Fi camera with Wayport hotspot link, WPS: The S610c with Wi-Fi inside, shipping in September for $330 (MSRP), supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) for single button connections to home networks, and a two year subscription to Wayport's hotspot network for uploading photos. This is nearly 10,000 McDonald's and 1,000 hotels, and doesn't include the Starbucks locations Wayport is building out for AT&T. The camera has a 10-megapixel sensor, 3.6x zoom lens, and 3-inch LCD screen, as well as vibration reduction, and up to an effective 3200 ISO.
Oddly, Nikon also announced the $500 P6000 with a built-in GPS receiver, 13.5 MP sensor, 4x zoom, and effective 6400 ISO--and a built-in Ethernet jack. Which is a very weird choice. I know Wi-Fi adds cost and reduces battery life-span, but I would think that GPS plus Wi-Fi would allow assisted GPS for faster coordinated lookups (if the Wi-Fi tapped into Skyhook's system and cached some location information), as well as offering automated uploads, and Wi-Fi positioning when GPS signals couldn't be reached.
Seems like a missed ship here.
This story is a bit cute, but it's true: Alison DeLauzon, Reuters reports, had her camera stolen when left an equipment bag in a restaurant in Florida. The folks who allegedly took the bag also took pictures of themselves, which isn't unusual. But DeLauzon had an Eye-Fi wireless Secure Digital (SD) card in her camera, received as a gift. The thieves apparently wandered by an open access point with the same SSID as one that DeLauzon had configured for use, and pictures of her baby and the thieves were uploaded to her picture-sharing account. Nifty.
This is reminiscent of another recent story in which an Apple Store employee was able to use Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard's Back to My Mac remote access software to connect to a laptop that was stolen from her apartment to grab images and screenshots of the two men alleged to have taken the laptop and other gear.
The folks who brought us simple Wi-Fi for digital cameras add locations, modify pricing: Eye-Fi developed a supremely simple 2 GB Secure Digital card that can work with any digital camera and transfer photos over known Wi-Fi networks with no effort. Now they've split their original $99 product offering into three items differentiated by features: Eye-Fi Explore, with Wi-Fi-based geotagging ($129); Eye-Fi Share, for uploading to photo-sharing systems ($99); and Eye-Fi Home, which is a cable-replacement service ($79). The Eye-Fi Explore will be available starting 9-June-2008.
The Eye-Fi Explore product relies on Skyhook Wireless's system of analyzing the signal strength of nearby Wi-Fi networks to extrapolate latitude and longitude. Eye-Fi ties that into their system to stamp images with locations. This deal also ties into Wayport's domestic network of 10,000 hotspots, most of which are McDonald's outlets, allowing free uploading via those systems. The purchase price covers one year of hotspot service. All three products work with Mac OS X Tiger and Leopard, and Windows XP/Vista.
Because Skyhook needs a live Web connection to look up the Wi-Fi environment, Eye-Fi can store the Wi-Fi snapshot when the picture is taken, and manage inserting the appropriate photo metadata (EXIF format) at upload for Flickr and other services that support geotagging.
Geotagging is a very popular idea, something that I'm quite taken with because it pairs the act of taking a photograph with the location at which the picture is taken, making a digital photograph seem a little less untied to reality. But until now, it's been generally quite involved to match a picture with coordinates. A handful of specialized cameras embed GPS chips, and there's software to facilitate other methods, but the cost and battery drain of GPS chips have apparently so far kept it from being a widely deployed feature, while the wonkiness of alternatives doesn't appeal to mainstream users.
Sony once sold this wacky GPS companion (which I just found out isn't available in either released model) that would track your location over time, and use that information to geotag images via a special software program that let you pair its stream of data with your photographs.
Eye-Fi and Skyhook are doing something almost the same, since the camera isn't capturing the GPS data, and the Eye-Fi isn't applying the information live, much of the time. But it's eminently more usable than the Sony system, because the Eye-Fi handles the assembly seamlessly for you.
Now there's just one thing to worry about. Think about this: McDonald's are everywhere, and nearly all of the U.S. locations have Wi-Fi. The Eye-Fi uploads whenever it can, as long as the camera is turned on. You're geotagging images without any effort. Okay, got it? So...you call in sick to work, and run off to take some photos. Your boss, using RSS to subscribe to your Flickr feed, not only sees your pictures as you wander the town, unknowningly promiscuously uploading them via quick-serve restaurants' networks, but also knows precisely where you are.
This makes me suggest that you might set your Flickr upload preferences to keep images private and your geotagging preferences the same. You can then expose the images you want for public consumption. The Panoptican is...us!
Eye-Fi supported by Nikon D60 firmware: The Wi-Fi Secure Digital card offered by Eye-Fi can now be recognized by Nikon's D60 SLR, a just-announced 10.2-megapixel camera due in March; pricing for the camera wasn't released. The Eye-Fi integration solves a problem I heard widely discussed at Macworld Expo, where Eye-Fi won a Best of Show 2008 award: because cameras can't detect the Eye-Fi, the makers of the Wi-Fi card say you should disable automatic power conservation on your camera to avoid the card--powered by the camera--shutting down while still uploading photos.
This makes logical sense, but it's irritating. I suggested in a review and to the company that because they have a server component to the offering, that they offer an option to email, send SMS, or offer a pop-up message on a host computer when uploading is complete, so a consumer would then know to turn the camera off. At Macworld Expo, when I talked to employees at the booth, they nodded without responding. I said, these aren't good ideas? They said, no, in fact, they're hearing the same ideas all the time, and they're trying to figure out how to work them in. That's good news.
But the integration with camera firmware is, of course, even better, because it makes the Eye-Fi essentially an accessory for a camera, rather than an unrelated third-party add-on. Older cameras could have firmware upgrades, but I find even though that's possible, most people who use cameras would never think of this, and thus camera makers would be unlikely to upgrade older cameras unless they sold well, and the maker could slipstream a branded offering into the retail channel that noted the camera was Eye-Fi ready.
After more than a year of providing hints at their capability, Eye-Fi has released their flagship product: a 2 GB Secure Digital flash card with built-in Wi-Fi for $100: The Eye-Fi Card connects over a Wi-Fi network using its own onboard processor to transfer images from the card to a computer or upload the photos to Eye-Fi's servers for further distribution. The camera has to be powered on within range of a Wi-Fi network; there's no other intervention needed.
The company has partnered with 17 major photo-sharing, photo-finishing, and social-networking services and sites to enable direct transfer to one or more of those services when pictures are uploaded, based on your choices.
The Eye-Fi is not a generic Wi-Fi adapter: that is, it doesn't magically add Wi-Fi capabilities to a digital camera. Rather, it's a separate computer that happens to live within an SD card and can access the same stored data that the digital camera can. I expect to review the unit in the next week or two.
In an interview with Jef Holove, Eye-Fi's chief executive, he explained that Eye-Fi had honed in on a very simple offering, with the potential to become more complicated later as the market dictated. He describes Eye-Fi as "a wireless memory card that lets you upload your photos," a concise summary.
The Eye-Fi's intent is to allow zero-effort uploading of photographs taken on a digital camera. I haven't seen anything close to this amount of simplicity, including in the consumer cameras that have Wi-Fi built-in from Nikon, Canon, and Kodak. Those cameras generally don't allow full-resolution Internet transfers of photos, and lock you into specific upload services, such as Kodak Gallery (renamed for the third time in a handful of years). Eye-Fi wanted to provide full-resolution uploads, no preferred service, and eliminate the effort in initiating or managing the transfer.
An Eye-Fi needs to be set up before it's used in a camera. The device comes with a small USB dock, and software for Windows and Mac OS X that can configure internal settings in the card. The software mostly exists to connect you with Eye-Fi's Web site, where you create an account, enter Wi-Fi network settings (including passwords), and enter or sign up for any of the 17 services you may use or belong to. Various settings are then installed on the Eye-Fi and it's ready to go.
Whenever you're within range of any of the networks you've configured, the Eye-Fi transfers any pictures you've taken since the last transfer. The camera isn't involved. Holove said that there are three modes that the card can work in for transfers: transfer to the host computer; transfer to Eye-Fi's servers directly; or transfer to Eye-Fi's servers and then download to the host computer.
The last option sounds a little confusing: why download photos again rather than transfer them over the local network? Holove explained that it would double the battery usage to transfer the images twice, so they opted to retrieve the images after upload rather than reduce the camera's charge.
Holove said that they estimate the card consumes about 5 to 10 percent more battery than a camera would use otherwise; they found their beta testers hardly noticed the power consumption due to the increased capacity of modern batteries and more energy-efficient camera designs. The Wi-Fi component, an Atheros AR6001, uses very little energy while idle.
If you choose to upload photos, Eye-Fi's servers automatically transfer the photos to the service you selected. You can register at all the services you regularly use, and then choose which single service gets the uploaded images when you're between uploading sessions. If individual photos size or resolution exceeds the maximum allowed by a given service, Eye-Fi's system resizes the image just for them. (I'd prefer Eye-Fi uploaded to one or more services at once, but that's not in line with their approach, which is "keep it simple at this stage.")
There's no option to downsample photos on upload to reduce the upload time, however. Holove said that in this first iteration, they wanted to appeal to what they found was a common sentiment among photographers they're aiming at: the desire to upload full-resolution images. Holove said "As storage for these [photo-sharing] companies becomes cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, it becomes more affordable for these companies to store higher res images."
The Eye-Fi is shipping initially as a 2 GB SD card because higher capacities require the use of SDHC (SD High Capacity), which isn't supported on many older and less expensive cameras. SDHC is required for 4 GB and higher memory cards, and Holove said that the firm "wanted to launch a product that would work with all the SD cameras out there."
Initial partners are dotPhoto, Facebook, Flickr, Fotki, Kodak Gallery, Phanfare, Photobucket, Picasa Web Albums, Sharpcast and Gallery, Shutterfly, SmugMug, Snapfish, TypePad, VOX, Wal-Mart, and Webshots.
Nikon puts new Coolpix S51c on T-Mobile HotSpot network: The $330 Wi-Fi-enabled camera, shipping later this month, comes with six months of free use on T-Mobile HotSpot's U.S. network. The camera has an 8.1-megapixel sensor and 3x optical zoom. The six months begin from the first connect, which has to start before Aug. 31, 2008. These deals simply further emphasize how difficult it is to connect cameras to hotspots, as the cameras lack browsers.
None of Nikon's information explains the down-sampling that will be involved with emailing photos from the camera; it's unlikely that full-resolution images would be transmitted. Further, Nikon's previous software releases required software to be installed to transfer images at full resolution over a local network. The S51c comes with Mac and Windows software, so that's likely still the case.
No Wi-Fi camera has yet been released for the consumer market that simply allows file transfers at full resolution over any network reachable when connected via Wi-Fi, nor full-resolution image transmission. None that I'm aware of include secure file transfer, either, although Nikon says its associated picture service for this and other cameras uses some secure method, not defined.
Even the iPhone, with access to Wi-Fi, and with low-resolution photos, only emails or posts to Web galleries downsampled versions. You have to sync over USB to transfer the full resolution.