Pinpoint is a personal project that I developed in order to better familiarize myself with product design and entrepreneurship. I conducted user and market research, devised a product with (maybe?) feasible tech specifications, designed a brand identity, and am currently working to create an app prototype.
Entrepreneurship • Product Design • Market Research
User Research • Concept Dev • Brand Identity Design
User Flows • Wireframing • UI Design • Prototyping
In a high-tech world capable of quantum computing and humanoid robots doing backflips, it's bizarre that losing personal belongings is still such a huge inconvenience. Misplaced keys can ruin an entire day, and a lost wallet or phone can ruin an entire paycheck. Products have attempted to address this problem, but few employ technologies that provide a practical or effective solution. There HAS to be a better way!
I began asking myself questions about an imaginary product that solves these issues. How does it work? What sets it apart from every other Bluetooth/GPS tracker on the market? How is it better at improving the livelihood of its users?
The goal became a personal item tracker that:
• Utilizes technology more efficiently than its competitors
• Implements unique and exclusive features
• Provides an intuitive and visually refined experience
• Is offered at a consumer friendly price point
Understanding the Market
Analyzing existing item trackers would allow me to identify specific opportunities for functionality/design improvement. It would also help me form clearer expectations and goals for the product.
To the best of my non-engineer abilities, a goal of mine was to provide a reasonably plausible proof of concept for the product's functionality. Accounting for this would require research in positioning systems, manufacturing, and other unfamiliar topics.
I did my best to reduce unit cost by proposing open-source software and practical manufacturing materials. I also explored unique ways to monetize through mobile advertising and proximity marketing.
One of my first steps was to conduct a competitive analysis on the market's leading products. I identified Tile, Trackr, and Protag Duet as the most popular Bluetooth item trackers and did my best to evaluate them objectively based on specific criteria.
The gallery below shows the different touch points of my competitive analysis. Use the ← and → arrows to cycle through the images.
Competitive Analysis Conclusions
While it offers many advantages, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) does not appear to be optimal for tracking and locating lost items. The phone's connection to the tracker tags can be disrupted by physical barriers and electronic signals, and also has a deceptively short range.
For items outside of Bluetooth range, many trackers offer a "crowd-finding" feature that utilizes location data from other users to track down your missing tag. It's a good idea, and certainly smaller and cheaper to implement than GPS, but isn't well sourced enough to be effective. Tile, which presumably has the largest crowd-finding network of any item tracker, has a considerable number of negative reviews attributed to the product's inefficacy out of Bluetooth range. It’s also worth noting that their Amazon listings did not grade well when evaluated for fake reviews.
[ ] Tile Fake Review Evaluation
Despite the $30 price tag for just one of these trackers, BLE does not appear to be inherently expensive to implement. A bare-bones item tracker is listed for $8.99 on Amazon and appears to offer the same basic functionality as the Tile/Trackr/Duet. Consumers are paying over a 300% markup for a nicer form factor, better branding, and an additional crowd-finding feature that scarcely works.
Tile proves that, if executed properly, BLE can help you find misplaced things inside your house. None of the products I analyzed, however, provided a sufficient solution for items outside of Bluetooth range. They also fail to deliver an effective GeoFencing feature that prevents users from losing their personal belongings in the first place.
Based on my competitive analysis and target price point, I created three detailed user personas to represent consumers in my primary audience. Click an image to enlarge.
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These personas became a useful tool that I referenced throughout the project to help steer decisions towards the satisfaction of the user.
Now that I had identified what the product was and who it was for, the next step was to determine how it would function. I began researching location-based technologies with the goal of proposing a tech solution that was cost-effective and reasonably feasible.
After compiling almost 30 pages of notes and sources, I formed a makeshift understanding of indoor and outdoor location-based technologies. This section details how these processes function along with the pros and cons of implementing them. If you're already yawning, click here to skip to the conclusions of my research.
Global Positioning System (GPS)
When you use your phone’s GPS, you receive radio signals from at least three different orbiting satellites. These signals, traveling at the speed of light, include the exact time they were emitted with ultra-specific accuracy due to atomic clocks. Based on these timestamps and how long it takes each signal to arrive, your phone is able to calculate your distance from each GPS satellite. Finally, it uses these ≥3 values to perform a process called trilateration and approximate your location.
[ ] GPS Trilateration Diagram
Poor atmospheric conditions can inhibit the time it takes for satellite radio signals to reach the Earth’s surface, thus diminishing the accuracy of GPS. “Multipath propagation” is another unavoidable obstacle that affects accuracy due to xyz. On a sunny day with minimal interference, your GPS can deliver location accuracy within ~10ft.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
If your phone is near you, navigate to your Bluetooth settings and hit “On” or “Scan”. As the loading wheel spins, your phone emits short-range radio waves that scan the area for potential Bluetooth devices to connect to. If an accessible device is within range, it provides your phone with profile information that gets displayed on your screen. When you select a profile to pair with, the two devices use radio communication to quickly establish a wireless network capable of transferring data in both directions (as long as the devices remain connected).
Bluetooth signals can be disrupted by physical barriers and other electronic devices, making indoor connections less reliable. Different classes and antenna configurations also provide different ranges, since they provide different power outputs. Bluetooth LE is A, which means B range. Phones typically have X, which means Y range.
Cell Tower & Wi-Fi Positioning
If your phone is in range of three or more cell towers, it's possible to geolocate it using a process called triangulation. Each tower identifies which of its three 120° sectors your signal resides in and estimates your distance based on signal strength. The towers then combine their data and use the overlapping information to approximate your device’s location. Accuracy citation.
[ ] Cell Tower Triangulation Diagram
Over the past few years, Google, Apple, and various open-source platforms have quietly aggregated location data for millions of Wi-Fi access points. By constantly logging the physical location and publically-accessible mac address of each Wi-Fi network, these databases are able to remain up-to-date and functionally useful.
For example, let’s say your phone detects multiple Wi-Fi networks. If the physical locations of those networks have been logged, and your device is close enough to detect them, your location can be reasonably estimated within X.
My original proposal revolved around a combination of BLE and an assisted form of GPS known as Real Time Kinematics (RTK). Often utilized in farmland surveying, RTK accounts for atmospheric interference with a fixed-location base station that references the same satellites as your GPS receiver and provides differential corrections in real time. Successful RTK delivers an absurd 1-3 inch location accuracy, which would be more than sufficient for locating item’s outside of Bluetooth range.
This product would include an easy-to-install home panel (RTK base station) paired with coin-sized tracking tags and an integrated mobile app. The home panel’s larger power capabilities would also allow for a Class 1 Bluetooth antenna, enabling the implementation of proper GeoFencing that prevents users from leaving their necessities at home.
I dubbed the product Homeplate and began working on the branding while also mapping out the experience for its users. Part of the branding process along with two userflows can be seen below.
After delving deeper into the production of Homeplate, I began questioning whether it offered the optimal tech solution. Not only would it be complex to implement, but accounting for the additional RTK base station would push the price point much higher than my original goal. The tracking tags would also need to be equipped with BLE, GPS, and bi-lateral data capabilities, which raised concerns regarding form factor and battery/power output. Homeplate was quickly becoming an entirely different product than I envisioned.
On my way back to the drawing board, I stumbled upon an up and coming technology called magnetic location, Transition into magnetic location +
Why MP is superior:
User Experience improvements
Cost improvements (business side and price point)
Magnetic positioning functionality more conducive to target price point than Homeplate
Removing the additional RTK panel device would result in a more seamless experience.
BLE beacon is small. Larger ground plane = further range.
Conclusions about ideal tech functionality + cost observations
simple put: this is cheaper and better
[ ] Concept dev notes + sketches
[ ] App dev notes + sketches
Introducing Pinpoint – Consumer-level functionality explanation.
Succinct tech summary.
Short range: MP
Long range: CELL + WIFI
Branding + Rebrand process
App Onboarding Notes
App WFs (hand-drawn)
Device WFs (Balsamiq)
Since our first impression was so critical, the direct mail materials became the most heavily vetted designs of the entire project. The package consisted of two inside components: The main content underneath the box's lid, and the packaging sleeve wrapped around each of the five Fitbits.
The gallery below showcases the final components that were deployed with the campaign. Click each image to enlarge.
“Introducing Homeplate” investor pitch intro
IndieGoGo Campaign Mockups
Product Mockups + Tech Specifications
Calculated profit per unit
Full App Screens + Inv Prototype
*** Display rows of 4 screens (optimal viewing for desktop)