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June 01, 2014

Trakdot - An Internet of Things Cautionary Tale

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(Photo credit Craig)

This morning my sister sent me a link to a USA Today story "Ultimate Travel Tech Tools and Tips for Families."  She knew I would want to read about the new Trackdot, a wireless luggage tracker for frequent fliers.  Trakdot's idea is you put this little battery powered device in your luggage before you check it, and then when your luggage arrives at it's desitation, it sends you a text message saying where it is located.  That's nice when it lands the same place you do, and really helpful when it lands somewhere else so you can tell the lost luggage department where the luggage actually is.  Because you know they don't know where it is most of the time!

The Trakdot costs $49 with free shipping, and there is a $19 per year service plan to pay for its wireless usage.  You can also buy it on amazon.com.

Before I go any further, I have to say that I have not yet ordered a Trakdot.  I really could use this product, but I found most of the reviews on Amazon, sorted by "most helpful" were pretty bad.  To be fair, the most recent reviews are mostly very good.  

And this is the point of my post here. The Internet of Things market is going to be full of very cool, inexpensive and useful sounding technology, and some of it is not going to work very well especially in the early days of the products.

What I saw in the early reviews of this product were typical of many new tech products:

  1. Poorer than advertised battery life
  2. Confusing and poorly written documentation
  3. A human interface that is not obvious to use, requiring the use of the poorly written documentation
  4. Customer service that is either overwhelmed or doesn't care and leaves the early customers who believed in the vision of the product wondering if they made a mistake being an early adopter
  5. Lots of mentions in the press and in blogs by people (like me) who did not actually get to use the product before writing their breathless reviews about how great the new technology is or is not going to be
  6. Poor reviews by actual users who are frustrated and want to warn others away from the product

Whenever there is a gold rush mentality in a market, people rush in, money follows and products get shipped before they are ready because the inventors and investors are afraid that someone else is just about to ship and steal the category.  In the early days of the gold rush the press believes the PR machine and knows the public is interested in the newest thing, so the reviews tend to be uninformed and glowing.  

I am so excited by the Internet of Things - cheap little computers, connected to sensors and to the internet - and it will bring amazing new devices and services to our lives.  But I do hate to see companies get caught up in the rush to market with a product before it is quite ready.

Getting back to Trackdot, and reading the latest reviews on Amazon, I see a company that seems to be trying to get back on the right foot with their product launch.  The more recent reviews are almost all positive.  One reviewer mentioned getting an unsolicited email from the Trackdot CEO applogizing for the issues the reviewer had and then got them replacement devices.  They are getting (or generating) great stories in the press.  I love the idea of this product, and the price is right for the frequent traveler.  I hope they can overcome the early growing pains, but I know if they can't, someone else is right around the corner with a competing product.  Either way, in a little while I'm going to be able to track my luggage and most other important things in my life by cheap little devices.

I am a little cautious about the most recent reviews for Trakdot on amazon, because very few seem to be from people who have ever done a review on Amazon before or are verified purchasers of the product, and they also tend to be just a few sentences long.  I'll tell you what.  If I get 10 comments on this post, I'll buy a Trakdot and try it out, and I'll write an informed review.  Until then, consider this post as a cautionary tale about launching new products in general, and not a product review of the Trakdot product.

(Disclaimer:  I have not purchased or tested a Trakdot.  I am also an amazon.com shareholder.  Because I live in Colorado, I will not get even a few pennies if you click through and buy a Trakdot or anything else from this post.  I do my best to be independent.)

June 1, 2014 in Entrepreneurship, Internet of Things, Travel | Permalink

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