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Eye-Fi connects to iPhone, gets more useful

I've been using the Eye-Fi series of Wi-Fi-enabled memory cards for a couple of years now. But I have to admit, they've always been cooler on paper than in practice. Yes, they let your camera connect to a Wi-Fi network and upload photos to photo-sharing services and even back to your Mac, and there's some Wi-Fi-based geotagging capability. But camera interfaces just aren't rich enough to give users control over the Eye-Fi's features out in the field, and most of the places I take pictures don't have Wi-Fi. Without a Wi-Fi connection, there's no way to send back the pictures and the geotagging feature won't work, either.

But recently two developments have made me reassess the value of an Eye-Fi card. First was the arrival of the iPhone's personal hotspot feature, which eliminated the problem of the Eye-Fi card not being able to find a Wi-Fi network when I'm out taking a hike. With the Eye-Fi set to connect to my iPhone 4's personal hotspot, it can share my iPhone's cellular-data connection.

But even better was the introduction of "Direct Mode", a feature rolled out in April for the X2 series of cards that turns the Eye-Fi card inside a camera into a portable hotspot. Here's how it works: you connect your iPad or iPhone to the Eye-Fi card once so that your iOS device remembers the name and password of your Eye-Fi card's hotspot. Then, when you're out shooting, you launch the free Eye-Fi app and the pictures you've taken will be transmitted wirelessly from your camera to the Camera Roll app on your iOS device.

I tested this feature out last weekend at one of my daughter's softball games. I turned on my Canon T2i DSLR camera, launched the Eye-Fi app, and then stuck my iPhone in my pocket and started to take pictures with my camera. When I was done, a full-resolution copy of all those photos from my T2i were on my iPhone, ready to be e-mailed, posted to Facebook and Flickr, and even run through Instagram.

Last week I wrote about how Apple technology changed how I bought a car. The encroachment of connected devices like iPhones into our lives continues to disrupt the world in strange ways. If you had asked me a year or two ago, I might have mused about digital cameras adding Wi-Fi, GPS, and even cellular features of their own, all controlled directly from the camera. But now it's harder for me to see that as a pressing need. The phones we carry with us do most of those things, and with app-driven interfaces that are easy to use. Maybe our cameras would be better off just talking to our phones, rather than trying to do all these other jobs themselves.

Meanwhile, back in the present, that Eye-Fi X2 card I bought has suddenly become a lot more useful now that I can get all the photos I shoot with my full-sized cameras onto my iPhone 4.


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