Eyefi leaves some card owners stranded, highlighting IoT hazards

Ending support for some older Wi-Fi flash cards will make them nearly useless

Older networked flash cards from Eyefi will become the next IoT devices to effectively die in consumers’ hands when the company cuts off support for older models in September.

Eyefi's cards store data like other SD cards but also include a Wi-Fi radio so users can send photos straight from a camera to their laptop or phone. When Eyefi's first card went on sale in 2007, it already had some of the qualities of what’s now called an IoT device: It was remarkably small and had no display but could connect to a local network or the Internet over the air.

The products are also tied into a cloud-based service, which they usually rely on to get configured each time they’re used. Important functions of the device don’t work without a service that has to be maintained throughout the life of the product.

On Thursday, Eyefi told users of the older products they wouldn’t be able to use them for most purposes after Sept. 16. Its email message, addressed to users of Eye-Fi Pro X2 and earlier products bought before March 2016, said some Internet security and authentication mechanisms in the products had become outdated and vulnerable.

“It’s very important that customers cease using these products no later than September 16, 2016 as some key services these products rely on will be shut down at that time,” the company wrote.

Hardware products that use cloud services are increasingly common as gadgets and home appliances get connected. That may give them more capabilities, including cloud-based storage and remote control via mobile apps, but the whole product can lose its value if the vendor goes out of business or moves on to new technologies.

"Everyone expects hardware to break at some point," analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis said via email. "What's different here is that the hardware itself may be working fine -- it's the dependency on software or cloud services that is at issue."

Nest’s decision in April to cut off support for the Revolv connected-home hubs raised alarms about this aspect of IoT. Nest, part of Google parent company Alphabet, acquired Revolv in 2014 and immediately stopped selling its hubs but kept its cloud service going. On May 15, it shut down the service, causing the $299 hubs to stop working.

The outcome will be much the same for Eye-Fi 1.0 products and cards from its X2 line, plus earlier software that worked with those cards.

One way of using the old cards may still work. Direct Mode, which allows users to send data directly from a card to another device, may continue to work but will have to be set up before Sept. 16. There’s no guarantee that mode will keep working afterward, the company said.

Eyefi Mobi and Mobi Pro devices bought since 2013 aren’t affected. Users who want to upgrade to a newer products can get a discount on as many as three units, but the discount is only 20 percent.

The move came just days after Eyefi was acquired by camera and imaging company Ricoh. It sparked outrage among many users, some of them vowing never to buy another Eyefi product.

It turns out IoT holds hazards for manufacturers as well as consumers.

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Stephen Lawson

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