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Long-awaited wireless SD an instant hit

Wireless memory cards were introduced in the US in 2005 by technology pioneer Eye-Fi, and gradually rolled out to the rest of the world, reaching far flung Australia only this year, when Eye-Fi appointed local distributor CR Kennedy shortly before The Digital Show in late May.

– And not a moment too soon, with a lack of connectivity to the wonderful world of social networks increasingly seen as a weakness in almost all current digital cameras, especially as smartphones increase in picture-taking capability. Wireless cards enable users to upload images from their camera to a smartphone, tablet or laptop, or direct to a remote internet location. They are the missing link between single-function cameras and the digital world.

In a new commercial application, passport and ID photo systems such as the ID Station (Brands Australia) and DNP DS ID400 (JA Davey) are using wireless cards to automate the fulfillment of orders.

But the late arrival hasn’t been through a lack of vision or energy by potential Australian distributors. Eye-Fi has had many appproaches over the years by potential Australian suitors.

‘The truth is we are a small company,’ said EyeFi co-founder Ziv Gillat, on the CR Kennedy stand at the trade show in May. ‘We wanted to make sure when we came here we did it right.’

He said there was a lot involved in establishing a new Eye-Fi market, including technical support, servers and other infrastructure.

The local market not only saw Eye-Fi launch at The Digital Show, but a new competitor in the shape of ezShare cards, distributed by Photo Direct. While Eye-Fi is the original developer of the wireless memory card and has had the market to itself for seven years, the SD Association recently released a wireless-card standard, the iSDIO (Intelligent SD Input-Output) spec, that essentially replicates the sharing-over-Wi-Fi functionality found in Eye-Fi’s range of SD Cards. Ez Share has apparently moved fast to take advantage of the new standard, which was only released in January this year.

Technological performance aside, the similarities in the packaging of the two competing products is striking. Manufacturer LZeal has taken great pains to imitate the look of Eye-Fi, right down to using the same (or as near as dammit) Pantone colours. And both the Eye-Fi and ezShare cards are orange.

While reluctant to discuss competitors, Ziv Gillat noted that memory card  market leader SanDisk has approached Eye-Fi to manufacture wireless cards rather than develop its own product.

Both CR Kennedy and Photo Direct are pleased with the sell-in to date, as well they might be. With demand pent up for years as professionals and enthusiasts read about the locally unavailable wireless technology, it should have been a ‘hit the ground running’ launch for Eye-Fi and ezShare products. Both were nominated as ‘PMA Hot Picks’ – big potential revenue earners – by retailers at The Digital Show.

‘Demand has been fantastic,’ said Stewart Pickersgill , CR Kennedy’s national product manager for Eye-Fi. He said major retailers such as Ted’s, Camera House and Harvey Norman were stocking the cards, JB was trialling them in some stores, and he was having discussions with several mass merchants.

He said that CRKennedy had sold out its first shipment in the week following The Digital Show, and that some stores had already re-ordered stock three or four times – this in the first month of their availability.

Mr Pickersgill said there was a bit of a balancing act involved in keeping the cards sufficiently price-competitive that sales weren’t lost to offshore retailers, while maintaining sufficient margin for retailers. (Eye-Fi cards are priced from $60 to $120 in Australia and from US$50 to $100 – plus shippinjg –  in the US)

Talking at the show, Mr Gillat said that while retail margins were fairly modest, the cards had a high dollar value and they provided photo specialists in particular with a range of other benefits, such as a means of getting digital image files out of a camera and potentially into a printed  form a lot faster than if the photographer waited for a conventional  8GB SD card to fill up. (The digital version of the old ‘two Christmas’ roll of film!).

‘Using our free APIs. a consumer can send pics directly to a retailer,’ said Mr Gillat. He said at Walmart in the US, consumers using Eye-Fi cards can automatically view all their images on a kiosk.

Eye-Fi card users can also set a slider to command the card to begin automatically uploading images and freeing space when it reaches a pre-determined capacity.

Steuart Pickersgill at Photo Direct is also pleased with the sell-in of ezShare cards.

‘Sell in has been steady and we’re pleased with the uptake and are seeing growth in volume,’ he said. ‘We have some national accounts coming on soon and this will give us a platform to start generating demand.

‘Everyone that has used EzShare has been providing feedback for improvements for the future, but they are really happy with the current product,’ he said.

He added that Photo Direct will have a number of new developments to announce in the next few weeks, and the product will continue to improve  and evolve, with manufacturer LZeal very responsive to market feedback.

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