Eye-Fi: How One Little Chip Will Change the Way You Share Pictures
Eye-Fi, a new company that makes Wi-Fi camera-memory cards, was formed because of a broken promise.
Three years ago, Yuval Koren, Eye-Fi’s CEO, traveled to New York from San Francisco for a wedding. You know, the kind you see in every single romantic comedy ever made? Long-lost friends were reunited, copious snapshots were taken, and everyone pledged to send them along soon after. “There were lots of good intentions,” says Koren. “But it never happened.”
We all know why: Booting-up your computer, plugging in your camera, uploading pics to the hard drive and finally choosing what to send to the web is universally annoying.
Koren came home and cornered his geeky friends — some worked at Cisco, others at Wi-Fi vendor Atheros, and a few even labored away at Apple. He posed a question to them: Why do digital pictures so often end up trapped inside cameras?
And then they figured out a way to easily set them free.
Two-and-a-half years of intense work later, they produced a 2-GB SD memory card mated with a Wi-Fi chip. Just sync the card to a hard drive or Wi-Fi network, and plug it into a digital camera and start snapping away. Pics are then routed to the hard drive or to one of 17 photo vendors (like Facebook or Flickr.) The card’s software deftly handles scaling and compression while privacy settings at the individual sites allow you to filter what gets published.
The Wi-Fi chip, though, was the technical breakthrough. Developed by Atheros, it uses 70 percent less power than competing products, allowing it to be comfortably nestled in a standard SD card. Atheros didn’t realize how much its wunderchip could help Koren’s fledgling project.
“They didn’t know about us at first,” explains Koren. “The software and hardware were still in beta, but we begged for access.” Atheros eventually agreed and granted Koren access in order to help prove their own technology.
A marriage of innovation and vision may have hatched the Eye-Fi, but something larger is also at work here. Next-gen Wi-Fi networking is finally allowing lowly hardware to be integrated with web apps and software.
“Businesses realize that device margins disappear quickly,” says Jonathan Gaw, an IDC analyst who covers home networking. “One way to combat that is to integrate upwards with services via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. We’re going to see networking in all kinds of devices.”
Eye-Fi was able to beat lumbering industry dinosaurs like Kodak and San Disk to the punch on a Wi-Fi-equipped memory card for a couple of reasons. First, it’s rare for hardware companies to have cross-disciplinary chops in software, which the Eye-Fi development required. Second, camera makers like Nikon that have toyed with Wi-Fi seem intent on locking in consumers to one particular application or photo platform. Who cares if you can beam photos around wirelessly if you’re shackled to the same device all the time?
Eye-Fi is instead laser-focused on a more technically savvy crowd. “We’re not talking about grandmas,” says Koren. “Our customer knows how to get photos out of camera but would rather spend their time captioning and sharing.”
Eye-Fi also goes the extra distance to listen to its customers. Even now, anyone can log on at eye.fi com to suggest what other photo platforms should be supported.
Koren is coy about what’s next for the company, but says, “There’s a lot more that we have in mind. Keep following what we’re doing.