Ditch That USB Cable: The Coolest Apps for Sending Your Photos Around Wirelessly

For average consumers, the big complaint about digital photography has always been that it’s too hard to extract the pictures you’ve taken from your camera or phone so you can show them to the rest of the world. But the truth is there are so many ways to move, share, and display digital photos today that there’s no longer any excuse for letting your pictures languish. This week’s column is meant to point you toward a few cool examples of applications to help share your photos—plus one that’s promising but, unfortunately, not quite ready for prime time.

There’s one word for the hurdle that keeps a lot of people from using their digital cameras more often: cables. To get photos of your camera, you usually have to track down the right USB cable, hook it to the computer, then find the photo-transfer program that came with the camera when you bought it. Wouldn’t it be great if your camera simply sent all of your recent photos to your computer wirelessly, the moment you turned the camera on? Well, that’s exactly what the Eye-Fi Explore, Eye-Fi Share, and Eye-Fi Home cards from Mountain View, CA-based Eye-Fi let you do.

Eye-Fi Explore 2GB Wireless SD CardThe cards are regular SD memory cards that hold 2 gigabytes of pictures and fit into the existing SD slot in your camera. But they also include tiny radios that allow the cards to connect to Wi-Fi networks such as the one you probably have in your house. From there, the cards can either upload your photos to your home computer or, in the case of Eye-Fi Share and Eye-Fi Explore, send them directly to your favorite photo-sharing site, such as Picasa, Flickr, or Photobucket.

The top-of-the-line card, the Explore, also comes with a year of free Wayport Wi-Fi hotspot service so you can upload photos from any of the Wayport’s thousands of member restaurants and hotels, including many McDonald’s locations. The Explore card also automatically geotags your photos—attaching the latitude and longitude to your photo’s electronic metadata, so that you can view them on a Web-based map. (To find the location where each photo is taken, the card uses Wi-Fi-based positioning software supplied by Boston’s Skyhook Wireless. I wrote about the deal between Skyhook and Eye-Fi last May).

My brother and his wife gave me an Eye-Fi Explore card for my birthday last week (thanks Jamie & Jen!). I’ve been testing it out this week, and it works astonishingly well. A 5-megabyte photo, taken at my camera’s maximum 3264 x 2448-pixel resolution, takes only a few seconds to upload to my computer, and appears in my Flickr account moments after that. I’ve tried setting the Eye-Fi card to upload images to my Evernote account (the wonderful digital notebook service I wrote about last July) and it works great for that too. The added bonus here is that Evernote can recognize words in your photos—so if one of your pictures included a billboard, a street sign, or some text on a whiteboard, you’d be able to find it later by searching for that text.

The SnapMyLife iPhone InterfaceThere are only a couple of downsides to the Eye-Fi card. One is that it uploads everything on your memory card indiscriminately, so you’d better be sure that the photos you’ve taken are really ones that you want showing up on a public photo-sharing account (although you can adjust the privacy settings for Web-bound photos in advance). Also, you can’t change the card’s settings from the camera—you have to do it using a Web-based management interface, which means you must be at an Internet-connected computer to switch between uploading to different sites. That’s a bit of an annoyance, because I share most of my photos on Flickr, but every once in a while I’d like to use my camera to record something on Evernote.

(Update, January 16, 2009: The Eye-Fi card’s popularity appears to be growing; the device just won the “Last Gadget Standing” competition at the International Consumer Electronics Show.)

But you don’t need a fancy digital camera or a wireless SD card to get into the mobile photo-sharing game. If you have a camera phone, you can send your photos off to your friends or to a Web album with no hassle. There are two mobile photo-sharing services that I particularly like, both launched in 2008, and both with automatic geotagging features.

One is SnapMyLife, which is accessible from any mobile Web browser, but also offers a nice specialized app for iPhone users. The iPhone app includes a Google Maps screen that lets you browse photos uploaded by other members. With more than 500,000 people using the service, you’re bound to find shots from a few fellow SnapMyLife users in any urban neighborhood. Some people use SnapMyLife to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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One response to “Ditch That USB Cable: The Coolest Apps for Sending Your Photos Around Wirelessly”

  1. Herb says:

    Shozu is another nice app that, among other things, makes it very easy to upload pictures and videos to multiple sites. Once you set up your accounts, just launch Shozu and quickly click through a couple menu options to select where and what you want to upload. And you can add details first if you want (e.g., title, description). http://www.shozu.com