Right now feels like a bit of an awkward stage in wireless tech – wifi is everywhere, but many devices still don’t take advantage of it. Most external hard drives still need to plug into a USB port, and the same goes for webcams, card readers, CD/DVD drives, and others.
Yes, there are things like Klikr, which brings all of your old remote-based devices – TVs, air conditioners, and the like – onto the cloud. But what about things that don’t take remote signals, and whose functions are a bit more complicated than an on/off button?
Jeryuan Yan noticed this issue when he wanted to store and share more photos on his iPhone.
So he came up with the idea for a wireless SD card reader. The iPhone would tap into the SD card via wifi, allowing a phone user to save photos to the card, and share them easily with others.
But then more problems arose. The card reader was portable, but that meant it needed to be charged, which was a hassle. It also meant that the phone user had to carry around an extra gadget with them. And while cloud services aren’t perfect – the free ones have notable space limitations, and all of them are reliant on your internet speed – the wifi card reader was proving to have problems all its own.
In the way that sometimes happens, trying to fix one simple problem – I want to take more photos on my phone – spiraled into something much bigger.
Jeryuan and his team at NextDrive took a new approach to wireless storage. What if, instead of carrying around a wifi-enabled card reader, you just left it at home, but still had access to it on your phone? And if you can do that, why settle for a card reader – why not a full-blown hard drive? And why stop there, if you can attach other devices as well?
NextDrive aims to take all your devices, which aren’t necessarily even that old, and bring them into the age of the cloud.
A computer-less cloud
It has always been possible to create your own cloud using a server and some IP-address wrangling, but it requires a level of technical ability that’s beyond most people. But with NextDrive’s dead-simple setup, even the most technically-illiterate user can make their own cloud.
NextDrive works by cramming an entire Internet of Things computer into a plug about as big as the charging block for a typical laptop. With electrical prongs on one side and a USB port on the other, it’s a device that’s hard for a user to screw up. Just pop it into an electrical socket, plug in your USB device of choice, and that device is now accessible from your smartphone.
“It is a challenge to communicate the concept of the NextDrive Plug to the consumer,” says Jeryuan, who’s the startup’s founder. “Therefore our messages currently focus on some applications which are easy to understand, such as personal cloud and auto photo backup.”
Cloud storage services are on the rise – just look at Google Photos and Apple’s iCloud – but they don’t provide the user with physical ownership of their files. NextDrive aims for the same convenience as other cloud services, but with the user in charge.
Cashing in on the idea of a personal cloud
Cloud storage is here to stay. But exactly what that means is still up for debate. After a few high-profile hacking cases – particularly the 2014 celebrity iCloud hack – there is a market among people who are interested in cloud services but who want to maintain control over their photos and data.
That audience came to the fore when NextDrive launched its Indiegogo campaign, raking in more than 140 percent of its initial goal by the time the fundraising drive ended in September.
The Taiwan-based team of 17 people offered each NextDrive plug for US$79 on the crowdfunding site and ultimately raised more than US$70,000. The company is in the midst of pre-A funding, set to close next month, and has not disclosed the amount. Jeryuan is hoping for a series A round next year where the company will aim for international backers.
For 2016, NextDrive is also planning on building a smaller device and improving the plug’s Bluetooth sensors as well as its video and music streaming capabilities.
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