Wi-Fi memory cards coming to cameras

It's an SD memory card with built-in networking. Sounds cool, but will you spring $100 for it when it's released later this year?

Think of it as point, shoot and post.

In the fall, start-up Eye-Fi plans to release Secure Digital memory cards with integrated Wi-Fi chips. With the card, digital cameras will be able to automatically send photos to home PCs or to photo-sharing Web sites.

The company is negotiating with about a dozen Web sites to allow direct uploads from cameras containing the cards, Eye-Fi founder and CEO Yuval Koren said.

The card is set to cost about $100. Although he did not clarify their memory capacity, he strongly indicated that they would hold about 2 gigabytes. Many current cameras won't easily accommodate larger cards, which have a slightly different format, he said. After 2GB, people should be downloading anyway, he added.

The company also recently landed $5.5 million in venture funding from Opus Capital and Shasta Ventures.

The idea for the company came from a wedding in 2004, Koren said. All of the guests were taking pictures.

"Everyone promised to share them, but a year later, I still hadn't seen the photos," he said.

Eye-Fi's cards are designed to conform to the standard SD card size; the cards contain enough spare real estate to incorporate a Wi-Fi chip. The networking functions on the card shut down when photos aren't being sent in order to save battery life.

Because the wireless functionality resides on the card, the networking functions won't interfere with the camera, the company said. Thus, people can keep snapping away without worrying about the Wi-Fi chip hogging the camera's processor. Users will be able to set the profile of the card to direct it to send photos either to a PC or a Web site, as well as whether to send the photos as they get taken or at the end of a photo session.

So far, cameras with integrated Wi-Fi have not been a monster hit with consumers. At $100, the Eye-Fi card will be far more expensive than generic SD cards. Currently, 2GB cards can be found for $29 or less, and flash prices continue to descend. A 4GB card can be bought for $70.

Density is going up too. However, Koren asserted that some consumers will go for the added functionality of Wi-Fi rather than for more storage.

Finding public Wi-Fi spots for downloading often isn't easy, either. "The focus will initially be on the home network," Koren said. Now people simply use the free USB cord that comes with the camera to connect their camera in the home.

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    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.

     

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