Start-Up’s Retrofitting Turns Cameras Wireless

Start-Up's Retrofitting Turns Cameras Wireless

By DON CLARK
From The Wall Street Journal Online

 

Many photos linger on digital cameras, never making it to a computer, a Web site or a printer. A Silicon Valley start-up has a plan to change that.

Eye-Fi Inc., of Mountain View, Calif., has squeezed wireless-networking circuitry as well as memory chips into the same small card that now stores data in many cameras. Once a user configures some software and Web settings, a camera equipped with an Eye-Fi card that comes near a designated wireless network automatically transfers stored photos to the user's computer — or through the Internet to a photo-sharing site, such as Yahoo Inc.'s Flickr.

The goal: to avoid the wires and other complexities that deter users from uploading their digital pictures.

Camera makers already build the popular wireless technology, called Wi-Fi, into some models. Eye-Fi hopes to differentiate itself by upgrading the tens of millions of cameras that have already been sold that use the stamp-sized card format called SD. It also plans to make the photo-transfer process easy.

"The Eye-Fi solution is definitely going to get the pictures out of the cameras," predicted Ron Glaz, an analyst who tracks the digital-imaging market for the market-research firm IDC. "That is good for everybody."

The company's plans have been reported by several Web publications since it began testing its offerings last year. It expects to begin selling the cards for around $100 this fall, said Yuval Koren, its chief executive.

Not all digital cameras use SD cards. Mr. Glaz estimated about 60% of cameras support the format.

Another alternative for consumers is to use cellphones that have digital cameras, which are improving in quality rapidly. In many cases, however, customers don't upload the photos they shoot with cellphones either, in part because of charges imposed by cellular carriers, Mr. Glaz said.

Eye-Fi today is announcing its first round of venture-capital funding, a $5.5 million infusion from the firms Opus Capital and Shasta Ventures. Mr. Koren, who previously worked at the networking giant Cisco Systems Inc., co-founded Eye-Fi in 2005. The company has 10 employees.

Mr. Koren said he got the idea for the venture when he attended a wedding, at which many of his friends took pictures. "Everybody promised to share them," he said. "A year went by and I still never saw those photos."

Eye-Fi's technology is designed to work with Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh — a favorite among photographers — as well as personal computers running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system. Besides testing its cards to make sure it works with most SD-equipped cameras, Eye-Fi is working to make sure the technology works with many popular photo sites by the time it is launched. "We are already engaged with more than a dozen of the top destinations," Mr. Koren said.

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