NEW YORK: Suited executives, grungy teens and even some savvy grannies are already using Wi-Fi to wirelessly link their laptops to the Internet. It may not be long before the short-range high-speed technology is just as popular for those looking to connect music players, phones, cameras, game consoles and more.
Wi-Fi's expansion beyond its role linking computers to the Internet should be good news for consumers -- making a host of electronics devices easier to use and more useful.
For example, Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile USA, a longtime provider of Wi-Fi Web links for laptops, has expanded its service to let customers who have weak cell phone coverage at home automatically transfer calls to their home Wi-Fi network.
Squeezebox, a Wi-Fi device made by Logitech, has been winning fans among music lovers who use it to transmit Internet radio stations and personal digital music collections to various locations around the house.
Another gadget, the Eye-Fi card, was designed to make sharing photographs from digital cameras less of a chore by automatically moving photos to computers or online albums.
"Products involved in media transfer from point A to point B without using a wire are becoming very popular," said Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg. "We're moving past the early adopters into mainstream consumers."
London-based architect Alistair Twiname was so enthusiastic about the Squeezebox that he posted a step-by-step chronicle of his installation of the device in his bathroom at www.chasingparkedcars.com/bathroom. "I had a dream... a dream about music... music and soap," Twiname wrote in his Web entry. "Some people suggested extension cables and mini boom boxes, shower radios... running lengths of cable... these all had various disadvantages."
Twiname, who also manages a rock band called Big Strides, says the wireless device has multiple advantages beyond simply letting him listen to his music collection while bathing.
"Handing over the remote to a dinner party guest to choose a tune is a great way to find out about the hidden depths of your music collection and your guests at the same time," said Twiname in an e-mail. He also uses Squeezebox as a clock.
Wi-Fi music and photos
Rivals of Squeezebox, which costs about $300, include the SoundBridge from Rokulabs.com and Sonos Digital Music System. Apple Inc also uses Wi-Fi in its home media hub Apple TV, which streams music and video from the computer to the television and to stereo systems.
It also added Wi-Fi to its first cell phone, the iPhone, and has put it in its latest music player, the iPod Touch, which works for Web surfing as well as music downloads.
In order to make management of digital photographs less time consuming, privately held Eye-Fi recently started selling a camera storage card with a built-in Wi-Fi connection.
To be sure, using a card reader or a cable connection to transfer photographs between digital cameras and computers is relatively simple. Yet many pictures never get moved to the computer, often because the photographer is too busy or simply forgets.
The Eye-Fi card, which sells for about $100, solves this by automatically moving copies to the computer or online albums every time the camera is switched on and within range of the user's Wi-Fi network and computer.
Ron Glaz, an analyst for research firm IDC said the Eye-Fi was easy to set up and made managing photographs less of a chore. As an added bonus, it also provided entertainment for his young children.
Glaz has connected his computer to his television at home, so when the Eye-Fi card updates his PC photograph album the pictures automatically show up on the TV.
"I can see myself throwing a birthday party, taking pictures and letting the kids see them on TV upstairs. It would make it fun for them," he said, "Oh, look at me! I'm on TV."
But Jupiter's Gartenberg notes that Wi-Fi devices, while making certain tasks easier and allowing consumers to enjoy media all over the house, do have drawbacks. The biggest one may be that they can be complex to manage for the non-techie.
"Consumers are suddenly discovering they have to become network managers in their own home," he said.