June 01, 2014
Trakdot - An Internet of Things Cautionary Tale
(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:
- Poorer than advertised battery life
- Confusing and poorly written documentation
- A human interface that is not obvious to use, requiring the use of the poorly written documentation
- 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
- 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
- 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.)
May 24, 2014
Boulder’s fifth Startup Week is in the history books, and I want to thank everyone involved, especially the founder Andrew Hyde and his great team of hard workers, volunteers and speakers. This was the first time that I’ve been able to participate fully, and it was just what I needed. In the past I’ve been too caught up in my own business to spend the week hanging out with other people who were just starting their journeys in the startup world. I’m sure I would have benefited from the enthusiasm and great ideas being tossed around if I had made time to go in the past, and I expect I’ll spend even more time with the startup community at Boulder Startup Week next year.
May 13, 2014
Denver Mini Maker Faire
I still remember discovering Make Magazine, Issue 2 in early 2005. It looked like a big Readers Digest for hackers (the good kind) and makers. At that time I'm not sure if "maker" was a word, but if Make Magazine didn't invent it, they certainly did their part to popularize it. A maker is a Do It Yourselfer with a techie bent. They might be artists, hackers, engineers, or people who just like to take things apart and put them back together, probably in a different way than how they started.
As Make Magazine launched, they also created Maker Faire which in its first year had over one hundred makers exhibiting all sorts of projects, and in 2012 they drew 120,000 people to the event. I've always wanted to go out for Maker Faire, but while doing Gold Systems I never felt like I had the time. In hindsight, that was silly, but now I intend to make it out there. (ha, get it?)
On May 3rd and 4th of this year, there was a "Mini" Maker Faire held in Denver, and as part of the work I'm doing for 6kites, I got to go with my good friend Marty. While it wasn't huge, it was a lot of fun. The best part was seeing all the kids running around, excited to see and get their hands on all the projects. It gave us hope that young people will want to get involved with engineering. Local Boulder company Sparkfun was out in full force teaching kids how to solder and assemble different kinds of fun electronic kits. I'm really impressed with Sparkfun and want to make it out to their facility tour some Friday afternoon. It will be like the Celestial Seasonings tour for geeks, hackers and makers. Be sure and check out their website at sparkfun.com
So here are some photos of the Mini Maker Faire. If it looks like fun, there will be another one in Fort Collins on October 5th, call the NoCo Mini Maker Faire.
There were many robots of all sizes. Here is one from, I think, the Berthoud Robotics High School club. Marty and I got to drive it around and try to pick up and throw a ball with it.
Here are a couple of amazing R2D2 replicas
Note the sign at the Denver Mad Scientist Club table
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was there, doing some amazing science demonstrations. In this one, they were showing how a supercold piece of metal could be made magnetic, as long as it was cold. I believe he was pouring liquid nitrogen onto the metal. It was better than magic.
Not everything was electronic. There were also quite a few artists showing their work.
Last but not least, perhaps the busiest place during the show was the Sparkfun area. Again, these people do a great job getting kids of all ages learning and playing with electronics.
There was so much more, but this is enough to get you thinking about what you missed. For a list of all the companies and individuals who displayed, check this link.
May 01, 2014
The Internet of Things, and my new thing
My last blog post was November, 2013. A lot has happened since then, and that’s a major understatement. Since then we shut down Gold Systems - I’m not ready to tell that story, or even to say how hard it was to write that just now. That’s for another time when I’m ready to tell the story. But rather than just be quiet until then, let me tell you what’s going on right now.
My good friend Steve gave me a Raspberry Pi in December, and with the help of my other good friend Marty, I got lost in connecting my little computer to the world and learning to write code again. It was thrilling to be back to my roots, working with Linux and actually learning how to connect sensors of all types to my little computer. It was refreshing to not be working in a Microsoft world, and I formatted the disk of my last PC and loaded Redhat Linux on it. (My wife just pointed out that she helped. She knows Linux better than I ever will and I'm grateful to have in-house tech support.) I had been making the move to Apple for some time, but for development I’m really enjoying playing with Linux. And it hasn’t crashed once.
In March I had a chance to go to Adelaide and Sydney Australia to be a mentor at the ANZ Innovyz START technology accelerator. This was my second trip to work with Janna Mathews and the great group of people in Australia, and it was just what I needed to get me thinking about what’s next for me.
While there I spent time with entrepreneurs who are working on 3D printing applications, Internet of Things projects, a game studio and several working to help educate people in entrepreneurship, technology and more. Between the Raspberry Pi, what I learned in Australia, and my fascination with computers that connect, sense and interact with the world, I realized that my next thing would be very different than what I was doing at Gold Systems.
The Boulder entrepreneur community is a wonderful group of careing individuals and many have contacted me and spent time with me. I am very grateful to you all, and I realize I am just getting started on reconnecting. In particular, Herb Morreale, an old friend and the CEO of 6kites, spent time with me and we had many great conversations about entrepreneurship and what opportunities exist today. We realized we both believed that what’s being called “The Internet of Things” could in fact be “The Next Big Thing.” Herb invited me to spend time at 6kites and to help set up the 6kites Labs, so that I could research and experiment with new technologies while keeping an eye open for how this could be a new market for 6kites. I am having a great time looking at the technology and opportunites, and I'll be doing regular blog posts now about what I'm finding. If you are an entrepreneur involved with IoT, I'd love to hear from you.
I just got back to Boulder from a trip back to Kentucky where I attended a board meeting for the International Bluegrass Music Museum. We’re building a new museum as we’ve outgrown the old one, and I’m helping the board to look at new ways to display the artifacts and engage people with the music, and that even ties in a bit with the work I’m doing with Herb and 6kites. Museums have moved beyond static displays and the experience is changing rapidly. It’s an exciting and busy time for me even though I don’t really have “a job” at the moment. I’m looking forward to seeing where the 6kites project goes and figuring out what I want to do next. Perhaps something that ties together my love of music, technology, the Internet of Things and flying . . .
Stay tuned, there's more to come . . .