Chris Nuttall Hitachi adds mini-cloud to iPad

Can storage ever be sexy? Well, slap on Wi-Fi capabilities and a wireless media server to an external hard drive and it can start to look rather attractive.

That’s what Hitachi has done with its G-Connect 500Gb external drive launched today - the Wi-Fi lets the drive act as a local mini-cloud for serving movies, music and photos to iPads and other devices that lack its huge capacity to store media.

The concept may sound familiar – we wrote about Seagate’s 500Gb GoFlex Satellite drive last month introducing the same capabilities.

And with Kingston’s Wi-Drive and AirStash’s wireless flash drive also emerging (albeit in smaller 32GB sizes), there is a definite trend being catered to here.

People are finding a 16Gb iPad 2 does not hold that much stuff when you add up all the apps, movies and music, plus photos and videos being taken. Its memory can’t be expanded and those who realise they need more before buying have to pay an extra $100 for a 32Gb model or $200 for the 64Gb one.

For $199, Hitachi and Seagate are offering 500Gb of extra storage for an iPad and the Wi-Fi built into their units will also serve the media they store to several other devices at the same time.

The new hard drives work by identifying themselves as an available wireless hotspot. Connecting to them allows their media directories to be viewed and played in a browser or on a specific app for the iPad, iPhone or Android device.

On the Seagate, connecting to its hotspot means users can’t be surfing the internet at the same time. But Hitachi has included an ethernet port with its drive, so that it can establish a wired connection to the internet and allow web browsing as well as media playback.

Hitachi’s hard-wired solution extends to its need for a power cable, making it less portable than the Seagate, which has a built-in battery for up to five hours of video playback.

Hitachi says more than five devices can connect to the hard drive at a time, compared to three for Seagate’s.

Overall, there seems little to choose between the two, apart from the Hitachi having the internet connectivity advantage and the Seagate benefiting from the built-in battery.

You could ignore both options and stream your content from the cloud – but connectivity can be a problem and big data downloads can be costly.

Apple’s iCloud service is likely to shrink space on iPads and iPhones even more as it automatically copies photos and other content from one device to all others owned by the user

So let’s welcome this new category of devices. We just need a name for it that’s as appealing as its capabilities.