LAS VEGAS--If you're the outdoorsy type, chances are that you've often found yourself off the beaten path and away from the safety of a strong wireless signal. What if you wanted to update your family with your location from the top of a mountain? What if you found yourself trapped under a rock in the middle of nowhere and needed help? The Spot product family of GPS-enabled satellite messengers is one solution to your lack of signal bars, with the newest of these devices being the smartphone-enhanced Spot Connect.
The Spot Connect interfaces with a Bluetooth-paired smartphone via the Spot Connect application--versions of the app will be immediately available for Android handsets, iPhone compatibility is pending Apple's approval, and BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 compatibility will follow later in the year. Using this app, you can take advantage of the Spot's more sensitive GPS receiver to determine your location and its satellite uplink to transmit your position to social networks, friends and family, and international emergency response centers. You can also send predefined location-based SMS and e-mail messages via satellite, "Type and Send" custom 41 character messages, or track and share your progress on Google Maps from almost anywhere on the planet. Most importantly, the Spot Connect features an SOS mode that will notify local emergency services that you need help and keep them updated of your location.
All of these interactions are handled via the smartphone's touch screen. Additionally, Spot offers a Web account management interface that allows you to set up lists of recipients, link your Facebook, Twitter, and other social-network accounts, and customize the preset messages.
Granted, these are all functions that any smartphone worth its salt can already handle, but the Spot Connect has the advantage of using the Globalstar/Spot satellite network instead of terrestrial cellular antennas. This means that the Spot Connect will enable your smartphone to transmit its position from almost anywhere that has a clear view of the sky, worldwide. Spot's emergency response system also ties into roadside assistance services and the BoatUS marine towing service. This makes the Spot a great safety net for anyone who regularly goes off of the grid, including weekend warriors, vacationers in foreign countries, boat owners out in open water, and motorists, bikers, and cyclists exploring rural or mountainous backroads.
The Spot Connect's hardware is self-contained, so it can continue to transmit your location when in Tracking or SOS mode even if the paired smartphone dies or is deactivated, and is IPX7 waterproof and shockproof, so it's less likely to be damaged or destroyed than a relatively fragile handset. The Spot Connect can also be utilized as a standalone device to a limited degree and features a physical SOS button for transmitting your location to emergency services. And because the Spot Connect has its own GPS receiver and satellite transmitter, it can also be used to add positioning and messaging functionality to noncellular devices, such as the iPod Touch.
The Spot Connect hardware is scheduled to begin shipping later this month with a $170 cost of entry. The free Spot Connect app will be available for download and an annual subscription service will be required to make use of Spot's satellite network, starting at about $100 per year.