INTERVIEW: Eye-Fi View online photo service hits the web

From the shores of the United Kingdom we’ve watched the unique concept that is the Eye-Fi wireless memory card in its steady and irresistible spread through the lives of photographers everywhere. The Internet and the digital age has been a revolution for imaging; the ability to put a Wi-Fi enabled SDHC device into a camera, which can instantly upload photos to your computer, is probably the pinnacle of what technology can offer this art form at the moment, and the very core of what Eye-Fi is all about. In the heart of London’s SW1 area and just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, Eye-Fi CEO Jef Holove met Pocket-lint to tell us that, actually, we’d got it all wrong.

“We don’t think of ourselves as a gadget or even an SD card. Eye-fi is really about the cloud-based infrastructure. That’s where the magic happens. We’re a platform for digital imaging and digital memories”.

That’s the official line and apparently the agenda to which Eye-Fi has been working, all the time the world just saw it as a little orange accessory. So, explains Holove, with that warm, North American timbre to his voice that you can’t help but trust when it’s talking technology and innovation:

“The platform has always been what’s important to us. The card is just a way of getting there”, he explains, as we sip tea while the sirens and traffic of the central London streets outside rise to greet Pope Benedict XVI on his inaugural visit.

“There are half a billion imaging devices out there with phones and cameras and camcorders”, says Holove indicating that Eye-Fi has yet to leverage anything like a large proportion. Eye-Fi itself has only been available to buy in the UK since October 2009 and is still limited to just France, Germany, Japan and, of course, the US as well. People can still use the basic home network wireless uploading feature in whatever nation they choose but being able to upload remotely via hotspots or even geotag is limited for the time being.

Eye-Fi has already taken steps to move away from its persona as a make of SDHC memory. The Eye-Fi iPhone app has been available for free to all Eye-Fi card customers for quite some time now and offers cameraphone picture uploads to your home computer over the mobile broadband network.

Another move away from the orange plastic has come with the camera manufacturers looking to make their models more Eye-Fi compatible, with enhanced interfaces showing the progress of uploads, and extended power modes to keep the devices switched on so that the data transfer can take place while idle. While Holove is talking about the importance of the platform over the card, it’s not a big leap to suggest that one day Eye-Fi can remove the need for the SD memory module as a vector altogether.

“Of course entirely native connection is something we’ve been thinking about, but that’s quite a way off. The camera companies have enough complexity to deal with, with all the circuits and processes they already have to get the best out of their imaging. So getting them to redesign that for full integration is no small thing”.

In the mean time, Eye-Fi has refreshed its range of cards - the Eye-Fi X2 - to support n-wireless and offer more content through the system in less time and more efficiently as well. However, it seems inputting photos from the camera to the Eye-Fi system is only half the reason we’re here today. With the company offering 46 places to output your photos - Flickr, Facebook, Evernote, etc - the big news is the launch of a cloud storage service for Eye-Fi customers called Eye-Fi View.

“The aim now isn’t just getting photos off your camera or phone, but to aggregate all the digital memories regardless of the device they were taken on; to organise, to store and with no need to remember where and how they were taken”.

Photos are automatically uploaded to your “unlimited” storage space on Eye-Fi View as you take them - provided you’re in a hotspot or Wi-Fi network - and those from the last 7 days can be accessed on the web application from wherever you are. Should you wish to be able to see and interact with the lot, then you’ll have to be a Premium member which is £3.99 per month or £39.99 per year. While a few hearts might sink that it’s not quite the freebie that you’d want, we should note that even Flickr charges for unlimited access to one’s own library; this leads us on to why Eye-Fi would want to get involved in an area already so congested with some really big players. However, according to Holove, that really isn’t the aim.

“We’re not trying to be Facebook or Flickr. They’re both partners of ours and have a huge social element that we’re not looking to get involved in. The difference is that Eye-Fi View isn’t about a community. It’s simply about sharing. It’s your personal cloud and it’s private. It’s your access to your content when you want it”.

Sharing, of course, isn’t just limited to internet pages, Holove highlights while we pour out another steaming cup from the pot in the marbled floored, high vaulted hotel salon. His company has spent the last few months doing extensive research into what people do with their photographs after they’ve taken them and how they send them from A to B.

“Email is the number one photo sharing method at the moment, but it’s amazingly inefficient. Your inbox gets clogged up, upload time is frustrating - especially when you’re then told that the images are too big - and you don’t always want to share all your shots with all the same people. So, the second thing we’re doing is updating the Eye-Fi Center to include a window at the bottom where you can drag and drop photos and upload to sharing sites or email directly from there”.

In practice, the Eye-Fi Center desktop software creates a privately shared page in the cloud and sends the link as an email to whomever you choose from your desktop. It’s not the world’s smoothest process just at the moment; it still involves being sent to your email application but it’s certainly a step better than without.

Both the updated software and the Eye-Fi View service are available to use now and, although both are a little on the rough and ready side, they certainly represent an intriguing direction for a company that initially just made an accessory gadget, as far as the public was concerned. So, are there any other surprises up Eye-Fi’s sleeve? Yes.

“It’s our objective to have all connected devices to be optimised for capture and consumption for Eye-Fi”, announces Holove with a strong sense of ambition, "so, we have an API open for third party developers to link into our cloud service”.

While cameras and phones are the obvious capture devices, Pocket-lint sits wondering for a second what the ones of consumption he refers to would be.

“TV?” we suggest.

“TV being an obvious way forward”, he nods in return, and leaves it at that.