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Goldstuck on Gadgets

The next small thing

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A localised WiFi hotspot in an SD card for cameras is not necessarily the next big ‚ or small ‚ thing, but shows what is becoming possible, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The pace of evolution of gadgetry often leaves us flat-footed, wondering why we rush to invest in the amazing new second generation of any device, only to discover as we walk out of the store that the third generation was about to be unpacked.

Or, after months of research, we settle on a gadget that is the cutting edge, so ahead of its time that it will take years for it to be surpassed ‚ and is then rendered obsolete by a sudden surprise entrant to the market.

It doesn’t happen only to individual consumers. Entire companies are left floundering as their technological lead evaporates overnight. Think Nokia and their incredibly shrinking market share. Think Netscape (who?), which was once the only browser in town.

If you’ve bought a camera in the past two years, you may well be feeling the same way. It is an investment you are likely to make only once in five or ten years, meaning you really do want the cutting edge at the moment of purchase. Once upon a time, that meant the quality of the pics you could produce. Today, it is all about the menu system, special effects, storage options and capacity and, just maybe, the choice of lenses.

Just lately, the cutting edge has moved on again, yet again leaving many users wondering why they didn’t wait just a few weeks or months. The camera of choice today, it seems, must have both GPS and WiFi built in: the former to ‚geo-locate‚ a photo, so that it is stamped with the GPS map coordinates of the location where it was taken: the latter to upload the photo to a web site, blog, or social network. Indeed, some cameras even come with a YouTube or Facebook link.

Now for the good news. Just because your camera is 13 months old, doesn’t mean it has to be restricted to last year’s features. Most digital cameras include an SD slot. It stands for Secure Digital, but really means compact flash memory, a thin, thumbnail-sized memory card that slides into a slot in the camera. It can store anything from 64MB to 64GB, depending on how much you paid for the card and what the camera will support, which in turn means up to thousands of high-resolution digital images.

The next small thing in SD cards is the key to staving off obsolescence ‚ specifically for the camera. But potentially for numerous other devices.

A company called Eye-Fi has produced an SD card that contains 8GB of memory capacity, as well as a little feature going by the number 802.11n. That’s the official standard for wireless networking, better known as WiFi. It means the camera can connect to a WiFi network, or another WiFi capable device can connect to the camera.

That, in turn, means that photos can be uploaded or transferred from the camera without messy wiring or swopping memory cards between machines. The main purpose is to transfer images from the camera to a laptop computer. It has a small range, so your laptop needs to be within a couple of metres from the camera to make the transfer.

But it also means a lot more. If a WiFi hotspot can be built into an SD card today, it can be built into any and every gadget of tomorrow. And if you can built a WiFi hotspot into a device the size of a thumbnail, imagine what else can both be built in and added on to gadgets to enhance their capabilities.

This card will be just the first of many, but points the way to convergence between storage and communications technology. The future for this convergence trend is not only towards smaller and more powerful hi-tech accessories for low-tech devices, but also towards the hope, for consumers, of less obsolescence stress.

* Arthur Goldstuck heads up the World Wide Worx market research organisation and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. You can follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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