Tile stickers and Apple AirTag

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Apple’s $ 29 AirTag lost item tracker ships on April 30th. I’ve been looking through the past week but recently bought a similar tracker from Tile. Tile has been in the lost item tracking business for several years and is now one of its closest competitors to Apple.

I took both devices for a test drive to show you how they differ and to explain why Tile is so upset that Apple is moving to its lawn.

Tile trackers aren’t new. They have been around for years and they are market leaders. The owners seem to love them. They’re handy because you can clip them to bags, keys, or other items and then see where they are on a map on your phone.

Like AirTag, tile trackers don’t use GPS. Instead, they rely on a network of other Tile devices that communicate with each other via Bluetooth. The more tiled devices there are, the more likely someone with a tile will come by and let your phone know the location of your lost item. Tile has sold more than 35 million devices, excluding products from more than 30 integrated technology partners that make up its network in 195 countries.

Apple’s AirTag is similar, except that it not only uses other AirTags, but also Apple’s existing network of iPhones and Macs, which is approaching a billion devices. This gives Apple an edge over Tile from the start, as it has a larger network when it launches, even if a lot of people aren’t buying an AirTag.

Tile has a range of tracker sizes and shapes.

tile

Here are some of the things I like about Tile that you don’t get with Apple AirTag:

  • There’s a button you can press to call your phone in case you can’t find it around the house.
  • There are different sizes and shapes. I bought a $ 25 tile sticker that’s about a quarter-size and a hair smaller than an AirTag. You can glue it to anything. A keychain or separate holder is required for AirTag.
  • Speaking of size, Tile sells a “slim” model for $ 29.99 that looks like a credit card and fits in a wallet. The Slim and Sticker models have a battery life of up to 3 years, which is longer than the year you get from Apple. The Pro and Mate versions of the Tile-Tags – the Pro has a louder speaker and longer Bluetooth runtime than the Mate – have user-replaceable batteries that, like AirTag, last for a year.
  • Tile has a range of colors including limited edition options with patterns you might like if you don’t want a white and silver AirTag that can be customized with just a few letters or an emoji.
  • Tile works with Android and iPhone, so you can still keep track of content even if you’re not using an iPhone.
  • Tile’s tracking technology is built into other products, from earphones to laptops to storage cases.

The biggest difference, however, is the experience. AirTag is much more seamless as you simply drag the battery tag and hit “Connect” on your iPhone.

Apple AirTag

Todd Haselton | Apple

With Tile, instead of using Apple’s Find My, which comes pre-installed on all devices, you have to download a separate app and give the app permission to use your location twice during setup. It’s something Tile complained about at Congress because the company believes Apple’s own product has the edge here.

You need to give the Tile app access to your location. AirTags use it too, but they don’t do the same process.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Apple’s Find My network is open to other companies who wish to support it. However, this is not in Tile’s interest.

For example, tiles allow you to find lost devices near and far for free. However, the subscription services, including Premium ($ 2.99 / month or $ 29.99 per year) and Premium Protect ($ 99.99 per year), are network based, not Apple’s. Because of this, it’s probably not as exciting to start up devices that support Apple Find My as companies that are not in the tracking space at all.

The Premium plan can help you get smart notifications when you leave something behind. It includes a free battery change, allows you to share the location of a tracker with friends, shows a 30-day location history, and much more. Premium Protect includes these features and offers up to $ 1,000 refunds if you can’t find them. So it’s kind of an insurance program for your products.

Apple AirTag

Todd Haselton | Apple

AirTag owners using an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 model will also benefit from AirTag. These phones can pinpoint the AirTag to its exact location using an ultra-broadband signal. You just hold up your phone and it will show you which direction to go to find your lost item. Tile doesn’t have access to this part of the iPhone, although it has developed support for its trackers so it can’t offer this feature. This is one of the complaints the company had when Apple launched its own tracking product. This was only addressed by Congress last week.

Another differentiator: AirTag also has a privacy policy. It will notify you if someone else’s AirTag seems to be with you and not with them for too long. This could help prevent people from using them to track you.

Tile stickers and Apple AirTag

Todd Haselton | CNBC

It is up to you which one to buy. I like Tile’s sticker and form factors, and that I can call my phone with the press of a button. It works on Android too, which is a huge plus. Apple’s AirTag is a hair quicker to set up, has ultra broadband and a larger network that may make it easier to find your lost device as more people are using iPhones and Macs as tile trackers.

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