The Journal

No one wants to shoot a smartphone video or start updating software only to find a popup saying storage is full. Photos and music probably maxed out the phone. A certain six people in Taiwan kept running into these problems and knew plenty of others who did, too. So they decided to do something about it commercially. They were the original members of the firm NextDrive, the founder of which once designed USB chips for an American company but worried about his future as phones and pads were installing fewer jacks.

So a year ago October they began selling electrical plugs at NT$2,990 ($94.1) each to absorb extra photos and sound files. The plug competes with USB on-the-go cables that link smartphones to flash drives. But the plug can be parked anywhere in the world, not something you need to carry around like another accessory. Users send their excess files by WiFi, 3G or 4G mobile phone services using a NextDrive app for iPhones or Android phones.

NextDrive has sold about 10,000 of the black rectangular devices since their launch in October 2015 and posted profits of 20% to 30%, founder and CEO Yan Jer-yuan says. Most sales were made online in Taiwan, with a small market in the United States.

“We discovered that phone users didn’t want to carry something else when they bring their phones,” says Yan, 46. “So we figured we’ve got something you don’t have to take out.”

Yan Jer-yuan, founder and CEO of NextDrive, displays a plug and cube (photo by Ralph Jennings)

Yan Jer-yuan, founder and CEO of NextDrive, displays a plug (black object) and cube. (photo by Ralph Jennings)

The startup based in suburban Taipei first designed a wireless SD card reader to absorb smartphone overflow but realized people didn’t want to cart it around while out. NextDrive also considered cloud storage but its staff feared that would rely too much on Internet speeds or hit limits on free use, the Taiwanese online news service Meet reports.

The plug siphons off excess photos in bulk and audio files one by one (the designer is still working on a way to offload videos). Plug owners can put 24 terabytes, essentially a lifetime’s worth of data, into the black rectangular block-shaped devices that come with standard electrical cord prongs and a USB port. The USB port can allow transfers of photos later to other mass storage devices as well as accept additional files from cameras or phones.

Customers complain that the plug’s app updates too slowly on iPhones, Yan acknowledges. His firm must redo it every time Apple asks users to install a new version of iOS and never knows when that will happen. He cites no other recurring gripes. “Most people are positive on the plugs, otherwise we wouldn’t sell 10,000,” he says.

From the end of this year the company, now at 26 employees, expects to start selling its relatively new NextDrive Cube in Japan. NextDrive picked Japan after winning a design award there and finding a Japanese telecom partner. It now needs regulatory approval.

The cube, like the plug, can store excess smartphone files. It also comes with a sensor and camera for recording motion, air temperature and humidity. NextDrive expects the NT$3,970 setup designed largely for business security will sell 200,000 units next year after a crowdfunding campaign.

November 1, 2016