Tracking your lost luggage for finding house keys you’ve misplaced is made a lot easier with Bluetooth trackers. These small, electronic homing beacons let you locate items in your home or far-flung locations through their smartphone apps. Until recently, Tile was the biggest Bluetooth tracking network. Now that Apple has joined the market with Airtags, which one is better and for who?
At their core, both Tile and Airtags work to accomplish the same goal: help you find lost things. They also work in similar ways, via Bluetooth and by leveraging their user networks. Right now, in both regards Apple has an advantage.
Let’s look at the two problems trackers attempt to solve. The first is finding things that go missing locally, like around your house. These aren’t so much lost items but more misplaced ones. Chances are they’re going to be in one of a few usual places or at least within the walls of your home. Both Tile and Airtags have chimes you initiate through their respective apps and using those beeping tones, lead you to the tracker.
Airtags though use ultra-wideband (UWB) technology which is more precise in close range. Tile is rumored to be working on a UWB version of its trackers this year but for now, you’ll have to rely on the chimes. In other words, Tile can tell you lost keys are in your house but not show you where exactly.
Stitched Through Networks
Now when things gets really lost, like blocks or across a city (or further) the Bluetooth signal on your phone (about 10 meters of range) isn’t going to do you much good. In these cases, what Tile and Apple do is leverage everyone else’s Bluetooth connection to geo-locate a tracker marked as missing.
With Tile, you have to be using their app. With Apple, if you’ve got an iPhone, you’re already part of their network. In both cases as you walk by (within Bluetooth range) a tracker marked as missing, your phone sends back an anonymous, encrypted location of that tracker back to Tile or Apple. The person walking by has no idea this happened but you will get to see a location of the missing tracker on a map.
What Recovery Is Like
Once you’ve got a location you can retrieve the tracker (and lost items it’s hopefully still connected to). Getting that location in the first place though as you may have guessed, comes down to the size of the network. Tile says they’ve got 26 million users (potential people running their app who might happen to walk near a lost tracker).
Worldwide however, there are a billion iPhone users, according to Apple. A network of users 42 times the size of Tile is a major advantage, as is the use of UWB. Tile for their part does make trackers in different shapes (some flatter, better for wallets) but otherwise lose out to Apple’s massive user-base advantage for most people.