Earlier this year, we heard rumors that Tile was preparing a new ultra-wideband version of its item tracking tags that could potentially go head-to-head with Apple’s then-only-rumored AirTag, and it appears that it’s now getting ready to launch its first UWB tag sometime next year.
However, this also leaves Tile in the unenviable position of trying to please everybody, which sometimes results in making numerous compromises.
Dubbed the Tile Ultra, the company is heralding it as the first UWB tag that works on both iOS and Android. That’s probably a fair statement, as the other two biggest contenders, Apple’s AirTag and Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTag+ are both confined to their own respective hardware ecosystems.
For one thing, even though Apple would be happy to welcome Tile into the Find My fold, although of course Tile wants nothing to do with that — and probably for at least some good reasons, to be fair.
As popular as Tile is, it’s a pretty safe bet that number is an order of magnitude lower than a billion, which is the number of active iPhones that are currently in use around the world.
This means that even though the new Tile Ultra sounds like it’s going to have some interesting features, it may still be left in the dust by the AirTag, thanks to Apple’s vastly more extensive network of devices.
In fact, recent estimates put the number of Tile owners are somewhere well under 35 million. Last month, Tile told Wirecutter that it’s sold “more than 35 million trackers,” but that’s the total number of tags sold in the entire history of the company, not the number that are currently active, so the actual user base is much lower.
This is even more likely when you consider that early Tile tags didn’t have replaceable batteries, which means they had to be discarded or recycled once they went dead.
Tile does claim that six million items are found every day, and 90% of those items marked as lost are found, but those numbers sound suspiciously high even if 35 million tags were actually active. We suspect there’s a bit of creative marketing math going on here. Either way, it’s safe to say that the number of people who have the Tile app installed on their smartphone is only a fraction of the number of iPhones and iPads out there, and of course, the biggest advantage to Apple’s Find My network is that anybody with an iPhone running iOS 14.3 or later can report the location of your lost items.
Needless to say, your keys or wallet have a much better chance of being encountered by somebody carrying an Apple device than they do by somebody who happens to also be a Tile user. Tile’s ‘Scan and Secure’ Solution
The same problem applies to Tile’s new safety features, which the company is dubbing “Scan and Secure.” While Tile is clearly borrowing a page from Apple’s AirTag playbook, offering notifications if an unknown Tile tag is detected moving around with you, only users who have the Tile app installed will actually get these notifications. In other words, if somebody plants a Tile tag on you in an attempt to track you, you’ll have no way of knowing about it unless you also happen to be a Tile user.
Of course, with the much smaller crowdsourced Tile network, it’s also far less likely a stalker will be able to accurately track your location, since that requires other Tile users to be nearby, but it’s still weak in comparison to Apple’s system, which doesn’t require an iPhone user to even know what an AirTag is to receive these alerts. ‘Lost and Found’
Tile has also added a way to identify a tag that you happen to come across. Rather than the NFC method used by Apple’s AirTags, each Tile will have a QR code on the back that can be scanned to see the owner’s contact details. This is actually one area in which Tile may have an advantage over AirTags. A QR code is a much better way to help good samaritans track down owners of found items, as it can be scanned by almost any device with a camera. By comparison, scanning an AirTag requires a device with NFC capabilities.
- Tile introduced its ultra-broadband, rival to Apple’s AirTag
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