Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.
There are many devices that allow one to remotely access your digital content at home when you're on the road. These include low-cost remote access appliances like the PogoPlug
, midrange NAS storage devices such as Netgear's Stora
, and expensive but powerful solutions that cater to the technically inclined, such as HP's MediaSmart
products powered by Windows Home Server.
Now, however, Dane Elec -- best-known for selling USB flash drives and memory cards at retailers such as Target -- has jumped into the shared storage space with an offering called MyDitto
. The late entrant seeks to overcome some of the setup and access complexities of other products in its class, bringing network storage beyond the early adopters. While MyDitto incorporates a number of good ideas, though, its advantages help only in a limited number of NAS usage scenarios.
While it accommodates two 3.5-inch drives (in trays rather than the Stora's more direct insertion method), the MyDitto is rather compact, much thinner than the Stora's cubic form. Its glossy white exterior and abundant blue illumination remind one of a chunky Nintendo Wii. One thing that separates the MyDitto from the competition, though, is what it doesn't come with, namely, a CD-ROM for loading any software. Instead, the device comes with two USB flash drives that serve as keys. Dane Elec, of course, sells additional keys, but you can also use most off-the-shelf USB flash drives. To authenticate a key, it is placed in the USB slot at the front of the device and the "Copy" button is held in until the MyDitto emits a beep to start the process. When the MyDitto beeps twice, the USB drive is ready to be inserted into a Mac or PC, where the MyDitto app on it provides a simple two-list view for dragging files to and from your approved space on the device.
Use of a MyDitto USB key has a number of advantages. There are no URLs for remote access sites to remember, the native app gets around any browser inconsistencies, and you can give a key to less technical users. However, the need to remember a Web site is now replaced by the need to remember to bring a physical flash drive, and there is still a password requirement. Also, the requirement to use the key to access the server from a local computer on the LAN gets old quickly; Dane Elec says that will be removed in an upcoming update that will also address some other 1.0 glitches such as errors in setting the device's network name and workgroup.
As for devices that don't support USB ports, Dane Elec has already released an approved iPhone app to access its little white box. However, using it requires entering a long hexadecimal "secret key" that isn't in keeping with the product's focus on simplicity. Fortunately, you need to enter it only once. The product can work as a DLNA and iTunes server, but doesn't yet ship with any network backup software and -- unlike the Stora -- can't integrate with the built-in backup programs in Mac OS or Windows.
In short, the MyDitto facilitates sharing files with trusted parties to which you've been able to present a key in advance. It features a simple interface and the physical key requirement provides an additional layer of security that avoids using a vendor's redirection service such as those offered by Cloud Engines for PogoPlug or Axentra for Netgear's Stora. It may be more attractive to small businesses than nontechnical consumers in the short term. As the physical key requirement also gets in the way of ad hoc sharing with those you may not have the opportunity to hand the key to in advance, Dane Elec seems intent on removing the key requirement for those who value more convenience at the expense of some security.
Ross Rubin is executive director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.