Apple finally launched AirTags, its Bluetooth tracker to help users keep a tab of everything valuable to them. Technology giant Cupertino has taken advantage of a new market, which is currently dominated by earlier Tile and Chipolo One.
Here’s everything you need to know about Bluetooth trackers.
Is AirTag a new concept?
The answer is no.
So who introduced this idea of finding lost items with the help of a coin-sized device?
The earlier versions of these trackers had two parts. The tracker and key, which when pressed, activates sound from the tracker as you might find it. Around 2013, with Bluetooth becoming commonplace and affordable, companies like Tile and TrackR (now known as Adero) offered enhanced solutions powered by their native apps.
Most trackers use BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) to connect to smartphones. The trackers themselves can be attached to any item you are likely to lose or forget from keys and handbags to bikes and even pets. So whenever you misplace an item with a tracker on it, you can find it by tapping on the Find button located in the app. The trackers play a loud tune so you can hear the sound and easily find the missing item.
The good thing about these trackers is that they work both ways. So, if you have keys (attached to a Bluetooth tracker) in your hand, and can’t find your phone, then you need to tap on the tracking device to get the location. This feature was first made available by TrackR in 2015.
However, the disadvantage of using a Bluetooth tracker is that it offers data in a limited range. So, for example, you’ll be able to find the missing item in your home, but if you’ve visited more than two places, then locating the same is a bit tricky.
So the answer to this was to get a crowd. Users were given an option in the app to be notified when the item was found, and this is where the community network is played. So whenever the lost item comes close to another Bluetooth tracking user, you are given the location data back and then you can go find your missing item. However, this required companies to have a large network to obtain location data from other users’ connected devices. This did not work in TrackR’s favor. So they proposed a slightly different concept, less focused on finding lost items.
Enter rechargeable “Smart Tags” (Bluetooth trackers) and “Taglets.” You can attach the Smart Tags in a bag, and the small Taglets can be attached to individual items such as wallets, laptops, or keys. The Smart Tag helps keep a tab on the items you wanted and needed inside a bag. All you have to do is tap on the Smart Tag and you’ll find out if all your belongings are inside the bag. The device produces either a green or red light to warn you and you also receive a notification on the phone. In addition, the company app keeps track of all Tags and Smart Tags, and can also send proactive reminders. The good thing about the Smart Tags is that they can be recharged.
The services offered by Tile were very popular and the company was able to establish itself in many markets such as the United States because of the advantage of having a large community network over competitors.
But, Apple has something better to offer consumers.
What does the AirTag offer?
Apple has introduced AirTag, which seems to be a much better version of what Tile offers. Apple has successfully developed its ecosystem over the years to offer consumers a seamless experience and its new AirTag is deeply integrated into it.
AirTags basically produces audible beeps when a user’s device is in its Bluetooth range. The concept is similar to existing Tile products. They also come with Siri support and claim a 12 month battery life. The battery can also be replaced after a year of use, just like Tiles.
The best part about the AirTag is that it comes with Apple’s U1 and Broadband (PCB) chip technology, which will help offer a more precise location, than the BLE equipped trackers from Tile. Apple calls this Precision Detection feature. PCB is similar to BLE, but operates at very high frequencies and offers more spatial and directional data. The wireless technology can track PCB device movements in real time as it uses larger channel bandwidth (500MHz) with low power pulses to offer safe and accurate positioning.
The technology is available on iPhone 11 and newer versions, and select Android smartphones. It uses the camera of these phones, ARKit, accelerometer and gyroscope to guide you to AirTag using a combination of audio, haptic and visual feedback. You get the location details on the Find My Apple app.
Now, the more interesting part is that Apple uses its global Find My network to find the location of the tag if it’s out of Bluetooth range. This one is similar to how Tile trackers work, but the chance of finding a tag could be greater with AirTag as Apple has a larger network. So whenever the lost AirTag comes in range of another iPhone user with the Find My app, you will be notified.
Apple says “the Find My network is approaching one billion Apple devices and can detect Bluetooth signals from a lost AirTag and pass the location back to its owner, all in the background, anonymously and privately. Users can also enter AirTag in Lost Mode and be notified when it is in range or located by the extensive Find My network. “The Precision Detection feature can also direct blind or visually impaired users to AirTag with instructions such as” AirTag is 9 feet away on your left. “
However, the feature leverages the U1 U1 Broadband sensor, which is not available on older iPhones, so not all users will be able to enjoy the benefits of AirTag.
The race to offer the best Bluetooth tracker has begun
Currently, Tile is also a good option for many as its Bluetooth trackers support Android and iOS platforms and are more affordable. Tile is also rumored to be working on new Bluetooth trackers with the same technology sometime later this year, according to a report by TechCrunch. However, the way to find the lost items would be the same, and with the latest PCB technology, consumers will be able to find items in a much easier way.
Samsung is already ahead of the competition. The South Korean giant introduced its SmartTag + Bluetooth tracker in February this year and features the advanced PCB chip to more accurately track consumer properties. SmartTag + uses the AR Finder technology to guide you to its location in real time, just like AirTag. It can be attached to any item such as key chains, wallets or backpacks. However, to use a Samsung tracker, you need the company’s SmartThings Find service, which is only available on Galaxy phones. The devices should also have support for PCB technology, which is available on Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy Z Fold 2 smartphones.
So here again Tiles has the upper hand in offering support for all types of devices.
Interestingly, Samsung’s tracker can also be used to turn on or off light. There is also a feature that allows you to call the tracker when you get close to the estimated location.
Samsung says “SmartTag + can also leverage the powerful detection capabilities of SmartThings Find, allowing you to find map-tagged items, even if it’s misplaced somewhere far from where you are. That’s because the tags use BLE connectivity and network power of Galaxy devices. “
So, companies are launching new products that offer convenience while also achieving what the product is meant for. The race to offer the best Bluetooth tracker has begun and it will be interesting to see how these brands will add more unique features to woo customers and gain more market share.