Kingston announces familiar-looking Wi-Drive

Kingston is set to unveil a new storage accessory aimed at Apple iDevice owners at a major event here in Taipei this afternoon - but a precursor device from a little-known competitor may cast a shadow over its latest creation.

We met with Kingston's sales and marketing director Mark Leathem ahead of the company's launch event for a preview of the device, dubbed Wi-Drive - but there were some questions he was unable to answer.

Kingston's Wi-Drive - previously known under the codename MobiSX - is a sleek, black device aimed at iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad owners. Inside is a battery - good for four hours of active use, we were told - two 802.11g/n wireless network interfaces, and either 16GB or 32GB of NAND flash.

When the companion Wi-Drive app is downloaded onto the iDevice, the Wi-Drive springs in to life: allowing users to stream music, films, and photographs, even with multiple client devices. "We quote three devices," Leathem explained, "but if you're not doing something like video you can probably share with up to five devices."

The app, even in its pre-production version, is slick and intuitive - and includes in-built video playback which coped admirably with a series of MP4 format videos loaded onto the demonstration unit, streaming to two devices simultaneously even at a range of 30 feet.

Kingston is aiming the Wi-Drive at those who want a cheaper way to upgrade - cheaper than the Apple option, that is. "If you've bought a 16GB iPad, the upgrade cost is atrocious," said Leathem - something that the Wi-Drive, which will launch in August at under £180, aims to solve.

Those with long memories may find the device familiar, however. Back in 2006, a small Singapore company called EDS Labs showed off a portable, wireless storage device at CeBIT - a device, strangely, it called WiDRIVE.

There are definite differences between the EDS WiDRIVE and Kingston's Wi-Drive - with the iPhone not having been announced until 2007, there's no app for the WiDRIVE, and it comes as a somewhat bulky bare-bones unit to which the user adds a 2.5in or 1.8in hard drive - but there are similarities beyond the name.

Both the WiDRIVE and Wi-Drive feature wireless data sharing, and include an in-built battery so they can be used on the go. Both are available in a shiny black casing, and both are designed to add additional storage to devices that cannot be upgraded internally.

Crucially, however, they're both almost identically named.

"We never noticed that product existed," Leathem claimed when we asked about the WiDRIVE, explaining that there is no link between EDS and the Kingston Wi-Drive. A Kingston engineer clarified that they had come across other products in their research, but believed them to be mains-powered network attached storage products - and was surprised to see the WiDRIVE's specifications.

It's an embarrassment for the company, and risks casting a shadow over a very high-profile launch - worse than being beaten to market by Seagate, which offers a similar but bulkier iPad companion accessory. Interestingly, Kingston has applied for a trademark on the term Wi-Drive despite the existence of the prior WiDRIVE - with a representative explaining that EDS's rights to the name expired a short time ago.

The Wi-Drive also has a few missing features which would have made it a more tempting product. At launch, users won't be able to upload content via the wireless connection, instead being forced to load content onto the device from a Mac or PC via an included mini-USB cable. This will be rectified by an app update around three months after launch, Leathem explained. There's also no Android support, although Leathem claimed that such an app is in the roadmap for the future - but he was sadly unable to provide a timescale.

For users of the non-3G iPad and the iPod Touch, however, there's a more pressing issue: when a user connects to the Wi-Drive, they will lose their Internet connection - although if they're planning on streaming a film, this is likely of little concern.

The Kingston Wi-Drive is due to launch in August, priced at £129 for the 16GB version and rising to £179 for the 32GB model.