August 3, 2006

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It’s a WiFi world
Make sure you’re connected
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Back in December, I wrote about digital cameras equipped with WiFi. The advantages are obvious: transfer photos to your PC without mucking around with cables or card readers. Some models can upload pictures right to the Web for sharing. (Read the column at hippopress.com.)

The first WiFi cameras have had limited success — may Zeus strike me down if I haven’t spied one or two of them on clearance — but that hasn’t stopped manufacturers from working wireless functionality into anything and everything they can get their mitts on.

Digital audio players
OK, it isn’t out yet, but Microsoft’s upcoming (snicker) iPod killer (hah!), called the Zune, will have integrated WiFi for downloading songs straight to the device. Supposedly, you can also share songs with your friends, though how they’ll sneak that by the licensing lawyers at the Record Industry Association of America I have no clue.

The download-anywhere aspect is reminiscent of the service some cell phone companies offer today, but cell phones don’t measure their capacity in tens of gigabytes. You could conceivably grab the entire Pink Floyd catalog when the brick wall of your hip, hotspot-enabled café gets a song stuck in your head. Microsoft’s announcement also hinted at video capability. Streaming video and music without a clunky ol’ laptop? Gimme.

The Zune brand name will encompass a music service similar to iTunes as well as the player itself. It’s all supposed to hit the fan — I mean, the shelves — in late 2006.

Mobile phones
I know, you already have a wireless phone. It’s tiny, it’s sexy, it has the most radalicious ringtone, like, EVAR, and looky, a camera! Yes, fine. It also costs you 50 bucks a month. These WiFi phones work with the Skype network to handle calls over the Internet. Call another Skype user and how much does it cost? I’ll give you a minute to work it out.

What’d you come up with? Nothing? Wa-hoo! Again, you have to be in range of a wireless hotspot, and one that doesn’t require you to authenticate yourself through a Web browser to boot, but what do you want for free?

Skype software is pre-loaded on the phones, so sign into your account and you’re ready to go. Don’t have an account yet? Head on over to www.skype.com and get one, fool.

WiFi Skype phones are just now being released from Netgear ($300), Belkin ($190), SMC ($199) and Edge-Core (no price estimate given yet). They all look pretty much identical and have the same specs, so they may in fact be the same thing re-branded a couple times.

There are other WiFi phones on the market, but they’re not as tightly integrated with a particular service. They’re made for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) networks like Vonage or Speakeasy, so you need to sign up and pay their monthly fee.

Washers & dryers
If you’re like me, you let your laundry pile up for two or three weeks before deciding that you’re going to get it all done in one night. You put the first load in right when you get home in the evening and completely forget about it until you’re half asleep during the second That ’70s Show rerun.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the washer e-mailed you? The Internet Home Alliance thinks so, and recently tested a system that can notify you by e-mail, phone, television pop-up, whatever. You can even control the machines a bit — change the setting, add a few more minutes of dry time.

You still have to fold clothes yourself, though.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss these articles and more at hippoflea.com

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