Panbo

SPOT Connect(s), the mobile apps way

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Jan 6, 2011
SPOT_Droid_Connect.jpg

Yes indeed, that is an Android app serving as the extended front end of yet another iteration of the good old SPOT satellite messenger.  It's called SPOT Connect, and it's a close relative of the Delorme joint product announced at this time last year.  The SPOT hardware is again an independent, waterproof communicator that can send out a distress message by itself, but now its third internal wireless component -- after GPS and Globalstar short burst messenging -- is Bluetooth.  Which means that a SPOT app on most any sort of mobile device can be used to send canned "Help" or "Check-in" emails/texts, or to turn on tracking, or -- and this was the big new feature on the Delorme PN60W -- write a custom 41 character message.  Another Connect difference is that the actual shipping date will apparently come much sooner after the announcement...

While the SPOT Connect product page does have an FCC not-for-sale warning at the bottom, Monday's Connect announcement states that the $170 hardware package is "scheduled to begin shipping this January" (which is soon ;-).  The service costs are typical SPOT, like $100 a year for unlimited canned messages and another $50 for unlimited tracking, with custom messages billed individually or bought in bundles.  The apps will be free and, besides Android, CNET is reporting that "iPhone compatibility is pending Apple's approval, and BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 compatibility will follow later in the year."
   If you read that whole CNET piece you'll also see the suggestion that Connect can be used to provide GPS positioning to apps devices that don't have an internal GPS, "such as the iPod Touch," but I'm a bit dubious.  It would be neat, especially for someone like me who's recommended against buying a 3G iPad just to get the GPS, but SPOT is somewhat vague about this capability.  An inquiry has so far gone unanswered, but that's understandable as the marketing folks are at the giant CES show where Connect just won an innovation award.  And I think It's a well deserved award.  Isn't a small suite of satellite communications functions that's easy to use with your favorite smart phone or tablet, and not too pricey, a pretty darn cool development?  Given what we've seen of SPOT coverage, you might not need anything else to track yourself across the Atlantic while messaging friends and even posting Facebook and/or Twitter updates!
  But SPOT won't have this niche to itself for long.  In fact, I will hopefully publish a scoop on a similar but more powerful (and more expensive) Iridium-based system on Panbo this weekend.  In fact, all sorts of interesting products are popping up these days, but let me close today with some iPad fun...

SPOT_Connect_screens.jpgOf course there are lots of ways to use an iPad on a boat, but it looks like P. Diddy and his entourage are going to enjoy one amazing mega app that's not available to the rest of us. And did you hear that something like 100 new tablets are being introduced at CES.  It's going to be an interesting year in electronics.

CNN_superyacht_iPad_story.jpg

Comments

Incidentally, the SPOT HUG does seem to be shipping:

http://www.defender.com/product.jsp?path=-1|344|9400|1392267&id=1583497

I'm hoping they'll let me test it.

Posted by: Ben at January 6, 2011 8:38 PM | Reply

Posted by: GPSNavX at January 6, 2011 10:02 PM | Reply

There's a lesson in the top photo on how the iPhone can compete with the onslaught of Android phones. I mean those Home, Menu, Back, and Search buttons at the bottom. Switching back and forth from Android to iOS I really miss those simple, universal controls. But how long did Apple stick with the one-button mouse? ;-)

Posted by: Ben at January 6, 2011 11:29 PM | Reply

So essentially text messages can be conveniently and cheaply sent from anywhere on earth with a smartphone & the spot without the need for a cell signal or wi-fi, just bluetooth? Thats pretty cool.

Posted by: Bob S at January 7, 2011 12:43 PM | Reply

Right, Bob, and more...like tracking your vessel every 10 minutes, or sending a distress message without the apps phone or tablet. But Globalstar coverage is not exactly global. Here's the coverage map, which seems to be accurate in my experience:

http://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=109

But Iridium is truly Global, and its SBD (short burst data) is two-way. Imagine a black box communicator like the Spot Connect but with apps that can send and receive short messages. More on that tomorrow!

Posted by: Ben in reply to Bob S at January 7, 2011 1:32 PM | Reply

If the Sat is only over you once every 20 mins on average how do you get 10 min updates?

http://calltimes.globalstar.com/

12 to 15 mins average up time and 20 min average no signal time...

What am I missing?

Posted by: Cattledog at January 7, 2011 4:46 PM | Reply

A fair bit, Cattledog ;-)

The tool you linked to is only about Globalstar phones, not about short burst data (SBD) modems, which is why it's called a "Call Times Tool." They are two different sets of technologies inside the satellites. The radios used for audio (and also 9.6 kbps data) have degraded, so the tool estimates when there will be enough power at your location to sustain a call or an email download.

The SBD technology works fine, so the tracking rate is determined by the device sending the data. In tracking mode Spot only sends one data burst so it's fairly easy for a trackpoint to be lost en route, but the messages, particularly of the Help and SOS nature, are sent multiple times to assure arrival.

When we tested the original Spot a few years ago, it was fairly common to lose 10-20% of the track points in the main coverage area and more on the fringes. But when some friends at Yachting took a Spot2 to Bermuda last fall, at least 99% of the track points made it through over five days continuous use.

I'm not sure if Spot2 has a better transmitter -- the GPS is definitely better, and that counts too -- or if Globalstar replacement satellites account for the change, or some combination thereof. At any rate, it was pretty impressive; I could see even their small course changes, and watched them get into Bermuda and onto the customs dock in darn near real time. There are links to it in the comments of this thread:

http://www.panbo.com/archives/2010/11/adventure_zone_more_spot_hug_details.html

Posted by: Ben in reply to Cattledog at January 7, 2011 5:41 PM | Reply

Ben:
Looking forward to your test.

But you say that this new SPOT can send out a distress message by itself. Is there a button on the unit that does this? I don't see one in the pictures. Sure hope there is because I can't see myself fumbling around trying to turn on bluetooth on my cell phone in an emergency.

Otherwise I think I will keep my ancient orange SPOT.

Posted by: Rick at January 7, 2011 9:14 PM | Reply

It's not visible in the pictures, Rick, but one of the "Key Features" listed is "On device SOS button for standalone emergency operation." The similar Delorme PN60W communicator has the same SOS button, and I think they both have On/Off buttons too. The phone is just an extended interface. For instance, if you turn on Tracking with the app, you can then shut the phone down, and the messenger will keep tracking for 24 hours.

Posted by: Ben at January 8, 2011 9:43 AM | Reply

Ben,

Saw this at CES, looks like a winner. I like the DeLorme product as well, but that seemed like an awkward way to get text input into the SPOT. What they need to now (easy) is to create Win7 and OSX applications message generation for nav-station based computers with BT. That cuts out the need for the cell phone, which is now useless for any other purpose if outside cell range anyway. I mentioned this to the SPOT people and they smiled.

Posted by: clay babcock at January 10, 2011 11:58 AM | Reply

There was a spot messenger on the boat I delivered from Portland to Antigua. I am very impressed. It allowed me to send an OK message to the owner and our office every day, and it went up on a face book page with a link to google earth. Another boat had one and he had issues, I suspect that since he was hove to in 33 foot seas he didn't leave it up on deck long enough for it to "check' in. 20 min.

The other thing that I am just hugging my self for buying is the Droid X and the Navionics chart aps for the east coast and caribbean. I am absolutely blow away. Too bad it isn't water proof.

Posted by: Phin Sprague at January 22, 2011 12:33 AM | Reply

Hi Ben -

Do you if the new SPOT Connect and Hub devices are compatible? That is, can I do the bluetooth connected smartphone functions with their innovative Hub system? As they both will presumably contain similar uplink transponders, it seems wasteful at best if we won't be able to perform the more basic smartphone connection on the more advanced (and expensive) Hub system. Thanks.

Drew

Posted by: Drew Clark at January 28, 2011 11:32 AM | Reply

The Spot Connect iPhone app is now up at the iTunes App Store.

PS: Drew is right that it would be neat if the IOS and Android apps also worked with the Spot HUG marine system, but I don't think that's possible yet.

Posted by: Ben at May 24, 2011 8:36 AM | Reply

I recently got a Spot Connect in for testing and I just typed a short test message on my Android phone and saw it go by satellite to email and text addresses, and even to my Twitter account. It is only 41 characters max when type a custom message, and it is only one way, but nonetheless neat given the cost and other things it will do.

Posted by: Ben at June 13, 2011 6:55 PM | Reply

I took a spot messenger South from Maine to Antigua in the fall of 2010. It only transmitted OK messages, but it saved me much time and conversation checking in with the owner and keeping spouses and company informed on location and progress. I am very sold on the product for checking in and there is nothing wrong with another layer of back up for emergency communication. Can't wait for new generations. My Android has the Navionics maps for Greenland to South America and I am absolutley loving that too! Wish it was water proof. Fanntastic Stuff!

Posted by: Phin Sprague at June 14, 2011 10:44 AM | Reply

Leave a comment