Bear with me you guys, because I am about to write an entire essay about a connected suitcase tracker. It’s not because summer is a slow news time, or that travel stories do well in the summer months. It’s because Tumi just launched a $200 device that tracks your luggage using GPS, 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Technically, the device is $150, but to get it to work you must shell out $50 a year for cellular service. The first year of the service plan is included in the initial price.
I have many thoughts about this product, but they all focus on the same theme: Cellular is still too expensive for the consumer IoT.
The Tumi luggage tracker is simply a battery-powered module that slips into your suitcase for travel. I’d say you could slip it into a kid’s backpack to track your kid, but it comes with four different modes that make it pretty specific for tracking luggage. Sleep Mode is for takeoff and landing in compliance with FAA regulations. In travel mode, the device automatically tracks a bag’s location every 20-30 minutes and builds a history of where a bag has been. Hotel mode gives a notification if the bag moves from a specific location and proximity mode alerts you if the device leaves Bluetooth range. Modes can be triggered manually or automatically by the accelerometer inside the device.
As far as luggage trackers go, Tumi is making a big deal about the FAA compliance during takeoff and landing, but some of the other features feel a bit forced. I think at that price I’d rather pay $200 for a more generic tracker and slip it into my bag. Or I guess I could spring from one of the connected suitcases out there. Bluesmart has one that I can buy for $250 as part of a crowdfunding campaign or $314 on Amazon.
I bring this up because, while location tracking is a killer feature for the internet of things, it’s still a work in progress. There are a few situations, such as location tracking of a pallet of valuable goods, where the real-time, global nature of the cellular network makes it the obvious choice for connectivity. But for $50 annually and $150 a device it feels too pricey for all but the most discerning travelers. This isn’t necessarily Tumi’s fault. The modems that provide the cellular connectivity are still expensive and designing them into a product is costly.
Cellular company’s pricing plans haven’t yet caught up with consumer pricing models for IoT. That may change with the roll out of NB-IoT networks that use less data and have cheaper modules, but even that’s not certain. In the meantime, people looking to track suitcases might be better off with a less real-time, but also less costly solution — Bluetooth-based tracking devices from Tile, TrackR, Chipolo and more.
If you’re traveling to a well-populated area, then a $25 Tile probably make more sense. Bluetooth trackers rely on a network of users who have the tracker’s app installed to let you know where your stuff is. For it to work, someone running the app must walk within Bluetooth range of your device. Airports are usually a good place to find other Tile or TrackR users.
However, any luggage tracker (GPS or Bluetooth) can only tell you where your luggage is. It can’t actually help you get to it. So while my husband loves to check in on the Tile app during a layover to ensure our luggage is with us so far, there’s not a lot he can do if it hasn’t arrived. Unless your luggage has wandered home with a baggage handler or a confused passenger who decides to keep it, your challenge isn’t just knowing where your luggage is, but reuniting with it.
And that’s my final thought on this particular product. The sense of security you get from this connected product is somewhat illusory. The ability to get a piece of data is not the final goal. Acting on it is often what matters. This is the case when it comes to tracking steps or even electricity consumption. Knowing is only half the battle.