The camera has gone through quite an evolution over the past generation. Twenty years ago, Polaroids were still state-of-the-art. That evolved to the 35mm standard, throwaway cameras and digital pictures. The next level is cameras that can talk to your company's computer without being physically connected.
These new wireless digital cameras have a number of business applications in the fast-paced world of entrepreneurs. Send photos from a product demonstration on the road so that your Web page can be updated in near real-time. E-mail pictures from a company award ceremony in London to rally the troops in Mountain View, Ca. Shoot and print out photos for a presentation and have them ready in the time it used to take to import digital photos over a cable to a PC.
How does this work?
In the same way your laptop is able to wirelessly connect to the Internet, camera designers are incorporating Wi-Fi wireless modems right into their latest digital photographic devices. This technology enables them to seamlessly communicate with other devices, such as computers and printers.
For example, the Kodak EasyShare-One (4 GB for $199.95, 6 GB for $299.95 at www.kodak.com) uses its Wi-Fi to transfer pictures and video to your computer. Using the extensive interactive display, you can also e-mail pictures directly from the camera while you're still on the road without having to find a local computer. It is also compatible with Kodak printers for easy prints.
Similarly, the Nikon Coolpix P1 and lower-end P2 ($549.95 and $399.95 at www.nikonusa.com) will talk with your computer and printer. The Coolpix models also have a Wireless Live Transfer, which will move pictures instantly to the computer as they are captured.
The Kodak and the Coolpix cameras use IEEE 802.11b and 802.11g, the standard Wi-Fi technologies. Nearly any computer with a wireless modem should work fine with these devices.
Will they get cheaper?
Prices may drop but probably not by much. The Kodak EasyShare-One seems to already target the low-end camera market, and getting a nice standard digital camera will run more than the cheapest EasyShare-One. Nikon's prime market is professional photographers -- the $399.95 Coolpix P2 is low by their standards.
More important, there aren't any other notable companies making Wi-Fi cameras. No competition means that they can set the price as they see fit.
There are not as many downsides to upgrading to this new technology. To ensure compatibility, buy the same brand throughout. The Kodak camera may not want to talk to the Canon printer, for example. Getting new equipment could get expensive.
Second, every company has its own way of doing things. When you send a photo to a friend, the e-mail he or she gets is actually a link to the respective manufacturers' online photo gallery. Most companies, including non-camera maker AOL, have their own online setup that must be used.
The camera's open interface also can leave your computer more vulnerable to attacks. A recent report found that the Nikon Coolpix P1 Wi-Fi opened up a pathway wide enough for hackers to breach the corresponding computer. That may be reason enough to wait on getting one until the next camera upgrade solves that problem, although the technology is exciting enough that security features will likely soon be addressed by manufacturers.