We have always been fans of the digital photo frame (DPF). Images look nicer than their printed counterparts because they are brighter even if their resolution is not as high. DPFs have an additional advantage in that they can display more than one image. Of course, the analog frames still have a few features not yet matched by the DPFs: they can be wall-mounted, do not require any power, and their size can be greater than 8×10. However, with the huge in-roads LCD TV has made into the home, those advantages may not exist in a few years.
Yesterday, we took a FirstLook at the CeivaPro Digital Photo Fram. Today, we are going to take a closer look at the PicturePlan service that separates the Ceiva apart from all the other digital photo frames in the market. Both the CeivaPro and CeivaShare frames require the Cieva PicturePlan service to work. The frames are not functional without an active account. This may rub some people the wrong way, but if one sees the frame as a service rather than a device, then it is really not much different than buy a fancy cell phone (which are not much use without an active account with a service provider).
The PicturePlan service provides a convenient way to update images to a single picture frame. No other company provides this kind of capability. Once a particular Ceiva frame has been registered, Ceiva knows how to communicate with it. Images are loaded from a computer to the Ceiva network via their website. Their newer web-based image uploader did not work for us. We were able to use the older one, but the old UI was pretty clunky.
Each frame in a registered user’s account is assigned a private email address by the Ceiva network (UniqueName.UniqueNumber@ceivamobile.com). This is a very smart feature for Ceiva to provide, and a huge value-add for the end user. Having a unique email address associated a digital photo frame means that anyone can send images to the frame from any device with emailing capability. In our testing, emailing was definitely the easiest way to get images to the Ceiva frame. This capability alone is a worth the price of the PicturePlan subscription.
Once images have been uploaded to the Ceiva server, they are all transferred to the digital photo frame in a single fetch. When to ping the Ceiva server to see if there are any pending downloads are based on the preference settings on the frame. The maximum number of times the server will be automatically pinged per day is two. This is probably so that the requests do not overwhelm Ceiva’s dial-up connections. Users may initiate a transfer at anytime by clicking the “Connect” icon. Any images awaiting download will be transfered in all at once. The WiFi process was fast and worked perfectly everytime. We assume POTS connection would be similar, but slower.
After the images have been downloaded to the frame, they will automatically be added to the running slideshow. There are some controls (transition effects, rotate, delete) for how they would be displayed. Direct access to a specific image is made using the physical navigation buttons on the front of the frame. The on-screen interface is quite simple, but having used the iPad for the past few weeks any non-touch sensitive screen just seemed so 2009.
Competitors such as Kodak are looking to get in on the “direct-to-frame” market. At present, Ceiva’s implementation is the most feature-rich, but that would be expected with a subscription cost of $99 a year. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain that price point when the segment gets a few more serious players. Ceiva is clearly looking to add value and to expand the service beyond just showing photos. As part of the PicturePlan, members can add “channels” for daily updates of various info (weather, news, recipes, etc.) of interest.
We’ll have the InTheWild report of the Ceiva frames and PicturePlan in a few months. In the meantime, if you are considering getting your mom a digital photo frame for Mother’s Day, you need to give the Ceiva frames serious consideration. The one question to ask yourself is…would you enjoy increasing your IT responsibilities around your mother’s house, or would you rather she enjoy seeing the images of her new grand kids without you having to go over and load them in by hand? Only you will know the answer to that one. In any case, don’t forget to call your mother this weekend and wish her a Happy Mother’s Day.