Mobile technology should not be about cramming the office into your pocket but a way to enjoy your everyday life.
Eye-Fi: Hardware patch for your camera
This is an excellent product: it makes your camera do the things it should have been able to do when it came from the factory. The biggest problem with the Eye-Fi is the very fact that it is useful, that even the newest cameras lack the most basic wireless features.
Naysayers have written comments like "is it really that difficult to use a usb cable", "why would you want to publish straight from the camera" and "the WiFi range is too short and it is too slow".
Sure, if you intend to put your image trough photoshop first, it will not matter much if you have to use a card reader or usb cable as well. But sometimes - quite often actually - it's really nice to just press the shutter and know that the photo will be published and on-line automatically within 30 seconds.
The device itself is a engineering masterpiece. A Secure Digital (SD) card, the size of a stamp, that contains a normal 2 GB flash memory but also a small on board computer and a WiFi transmitter and antenna. Sure, with such a small antenna embedded in the card and the card placed deep inside the camera, the effective range suffers - but it still works. The other obvious drawback is the fact that you can not control the card while it is inside the camera as there is no user interface for it. There has also been concerns about speed and battery usage but I have not noticed any problems in these areas.
Everything else about this card, however, is a source for joy.
Starting with the packaging you immediately know that this is something above the average. The package is tiny, great looking and has a nice construction - this is Apple-style packaging. The package contains the card, a USB card reader and a small manual. The software, available for both Windows and OS X, comes installed on the SD card so you always have it with you since there is no need to erase it as it is only a couple of megabytes in size.
I have not tried to OS X version of the software yet, but the Windows version works without a problem even in Vista 64-bit. And it is nice, this is user interface design done right. How often can you say that?
Setting it up is easy and it just works.
Actually, I don't know how it works, it just does. The locally installed software integrates with the remote admin web page which is a bit strange but works flawlessly. You use the remote web site to configure everything, even the settings for your local Eye-Fi card and local WiFi networks.
I configured the card to work with my local WiFi network and chose to upload the photos to one of the many supported web sites, Flickr, as well as to a folder on my local hard drive. Then I placed the Eye-Fi card in the camera and snapped I photo. A couple of seconds later the AJAX driven admin web page showed a thumbnail of the photo and a progress bar appeared. Some 20 seconds later the photo had appeared both at flickr and in the folder in my home computer.
I then went to the office, configured the card to work with the WiFi network there and snapped another photo. I did not have the Eye-Fi software running on any computer at work but I was using remote desktop to monitor my home server where the software was still running. To my surprise the image was uploaded not only to Flickr but to the folder on my home server as well. I presume the image was uploaded directly from the camera to an Eye-Fi server somewhere. This Eye-Fi server then forwarded the image to Flickr and kept a copy until my home computer had noticed the new image and fetched it to my home server as well. I am not sure, it just works. Nice.
And no, the image was not "pushed" to my home computer as the hardware firewall at home would have prevented that.
Eye-Fi supports an impressively large number of competing web sites straight out of the box. And not only that, it supports "Gallery" as well, the generic photo gallery application that you can install on your own web server if you are running one. In other words, not only are they supporting different commercial sites but chances are, they are supporting your private web site as well.
How come you need to buy a 3rd party solution to get this done, why can't cameras have WiFi support like this built in? They should.
A few years ago both Canon and Nikon launched their first WiFi cameras and run large ad campaigns to support it, making a big deal out of the benefits of WiFi and wireless connections in cameras. Had you bought one, you would have been disappointed. The cameras where not able to communicate with the outside world or the internet in general, they could only connect directly to your local computer that needed to be switched on and have a special software from Nikon or Canon running. You could not connect trough a WiFi hot-spot anywhere else, you had to be next to your computer. Nikon and Canon really gave WiFi cameras a bad name. The real irony was how Nikon and Canon executives kept saying how surprised they where that WiFi in cameras did not catch on, that wireless capabilities in cameras did not seem to be something that consumers wanted. Please.
Canon doesn't have any WiFi models available now, but Nikon came out with two new models, the S50c and S51c. Many presume that they are as useless as the previous ones, but if you read the marketing material you will now see statements such as "send pictures directly to your Flickr account right from the camera in Wi-Fi open access hot-spots". THIS is what they should have done from the very beginning! I even recommended this camera, the S51c, to a friend based on Nikon's repeated claims that you can upload photos directly from the camera to flickr, even trough hot-spots, and that you can e-mail your photos. I also read several blogs saying you can upload to any web site that supports e-mail uploading since the camera allows you to e-mail the photos.
I got fooled. Seriously fooled. When Nikon writes "send pictures directly to your Flickr account right from the camera", I assumed I would be able to, you know, upload straight to Flickr from the camera. You can't. And when Nikon said you could e-mail you photos straight from the camera, I thought I could, you know, e-mail the photos straight from the camera. You can't.
This is how it works: The camera has built in WiFi and you can configure it to use networks with keys or just use open hot-spots. However, the camera will only communicate with one server: mypicturetown.com, Nikon's own photo web site. Nothing else. There is no generic upload support in the camera, no e-mail support, no ftp support, no Flickr support.
The Flickr support is actually located in mypicturetown.com, so after you have uploaded a photo to mypicturetown.com, you have to go online, log on to mypicturetown.com and then press a button labeled "publish to Flickr".
I have been loyal Nikon user ever since I bought my F90 SLR, but now I think it is time to find new brands, modern ones that have fresh ideas and understand the net and what users want today.
And the "e-mail to a friend directly from the camera"? Perhaps you guessed it already. The image isn't e-mailed. Instead your friend will get a nicely formatted HTML mail from mypicturetown.com telling him or her to go to Nikon's web site to see the photo. So no, you can't send the image as an attachment to any friends or to any websites with e-mail uploading. I also came to realize that most blogs about products are written by people who have never held the actual product in their hands. They have simply read the press release, made assumptions about the product and then written these assumptions down as facts in the form of a mini review.
Ok, if you really put Google to good use, you can find a trick that is not available in the manual or on Nikon's site: if you create an e-mail entry in the camera's address field and simply type "flickr" in the e-mail field (!), you can get mypicturetown.com to forward the image to Flickr automatically. The image will not be sent to Flickr directly, but trough mypicturetown.com where the image is first downsized to 1600x1200 and stripped of any EXIF data.
I can imagine what kind of fights they have had internally at Nikon, between the engineers in the R&D department who wants to implement WiFi the way users expect it to be implemented and the people in the marketing department who desperately try to limit the WiFi implementation in every possible way so that it can not be used for anything but uploading to Nikon's own site.
Obviously camera manufacturers are afraid, they are being overtaken by mobile phone manufacturers adding better and better cameras to millions of mobile phones. At the same time the price of camera hardware is constantly dropping, making it harder to earn money as a camera manufacturer. These companies have good reason to fear that they will be marginalized in a few years. Obviously consultants have showed PowerPoint's about the importance of moving the strong camera brands from being hardware only to services that can bring in money in the form of monthly fees. Mypicturetown.com offers a bit of space for free, but if you want enough to archive, you have to pay a noticeable monthly fee.
Nikon has two options: They can continue to try to lock in their costumers until they have no customers left to lock in - or they can open up, add WiFi that works as customers expect it to and take their chances with the competition.