Saturday, July 13, 2013

DeLorme update

I haven't been paying much attention to DeLorme's offerings for two reasons:

  1. I think having to pair the tracker with a smart phone is a risky strategy in resource-constrained environment (i.e. in the bush for a few days), and
  2. the lack of an API meant that you were completely dependent on DeLorme for access to and manipulation of your data
But I recently looked at the DeLorme website and it turns out that they've fixed both problems.  There's a new device, the inReach SE, which launched in April.  The device looks like this:

It's pretty clearly a far more elaborate interface than what's provided by SPOT.  It allows you to compose and send SMS messages (as well as allowing you define some preset messages), and it allows you to receive SMS messages.  It also has an emergency notification button, like SPOT, which sends messages to the GEOS center.  Unlike SPOT it allows you to send arbitrary messages to the GEOS center, as well, so you can answer questions and provide additional information to rescuers.

That said, it uses a rechargeable battery, which I think suggests that DeLorme is somewhat unserious about extended wilderness use.  Disposables, while being wasteful and trashy, are easy to carry and easy to swap in and out as needed.  So that's disappointing, particularly given that the additional functionality in these things is likely to encourage you to run down your batteries more quickly.

As for costs, the device runs $300, and subscriptions are a little spendy.  There's a "Safety Plan," for folks who are using these strictly as an emergency signalizing gizmo (although I think that if that's all you want, you're better off with a SPOT), and it runs $9.99/month with a yearly subscription and renewal requirement.  The other two plans are the "Recreation Plan" ($24.95/month for a yearly subscription) and "Expedition Plan" ($49.95/month for a yearly subscription).  You can also get "seasonal" subscriptions to the latter two plans, with a minimum of 4 months, at $39.95 and $54.95 per month.  These allow unlimited sending of predefined messages and either 40 or 120 messages you compose in the field, as well as unlimited tracking.

As for an API, they're now providing your tracking data through a KML feed.  Contrast this with SPOT's RESTful interface, here.  There are definitely some tradeoffs, although I think on balance the KML feed is a win.  There are a lot of tools out there that already know how to parse and use KML data representations.  At this point I think it's safe to say that we're all tired of XML, but if you're using someone else's tools that issue is largely moot.

SPOT has a very simple JSON format, but still, a lot of folks would like to be able to use their tracking data without having to parse and extract it themselves.  I'd count this as a win for DeLorme.

In looking at the tradeoffs I have to say that I still lean towards SPOTs, ghastly software and all.  I have no interested in tweeting or posting Facebook status updates from the field, the battery issue is pretty annoying, and the additional cost is difficult for me to justify.  I expect that someone who's got sponsors and fans would weigh things quite differently, though.  You have to understand your own priorities and the tradeoffs between the devices when making a choice.

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