Thursday, August 11, 2011

Yellowbrick 3, the Iridium 9602 strikes again

The UK company Yellowbrick has made a name for itself primarily by supplying offshore racing fleets with self-contained tracking devices based on Iridium's original 9601 short burst data modem. But the new Yellowbrick 3 hardware announced this week is build around the smaller, less expensive, and more able 9602 modem and Yellowbrick intends to sell it as a standalone marine safety, tracking, and communications product as well as use it for fleet rentals. Yes, the Yellowbrick 3 is similar to the DeLorme inReach announced earlier this summer, but it's got more features and flexibility, and it costs more...
Unlike the inReach, the YB3 has a small OLED screen which apparently can be used to "choose from hundreds of preset messages to send via e-mail or SMS, and receive messages back..." It also has a 5.3Ah LiPo battery that can purportedly handle over 2000 messages and which can be recharged via USB cable, and it supports an external Iridium/GPS antenna so it can be set up down below. But like inReach, the standalone device can be used via Bluetooth to send and receive custom messages using an Android or Apple apps phone or pad...
Seen below are some screens from the Yellowbrick iOS app that will let you trade 160 character messages (email or SMS) with anyone ashore from anywhere on earth (with a decent sky view). Which I think is the key feature that will possibly make inReach, YB3, and other 9602-based products popular on boats and elsewhere. Of course it doesn't hurt to be an excellent tracking and distress device too...
But I shouldn't forget that none of the 9602 products are available to boaters yet, and there are always devils in the details. Discouragingly high monthly service costs with mandated twelve month contracts is one possibility I'm concerned about. I've seen a draft describing DeLorme's service plans for the $250 inReach and they seemed reasonable, especially if you can easily switch among them as mentioned here. But it was only a draft, and didn't mention if there is a fee to change plans. Meanwhile, Yellowbrick is selling the YB3 at four different prices according the features available, with the "Standard" model at about $815. If the monthly plans are like DeLorme's, then a message is the equivalent of 5 position reports.
   At any rate, all will become clear soon as the YB3 is slated to ship in September and inReach in October, and I hope to test both myself. And there are dozens more Iridium partners working with the 9602 SBD modem. Total operating costs will be certainly be a factor in how widely these devices are adopted, but I have little doubt that 9602-based communicators will eventually be a significant niche.

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