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In what was clearly a move to fend off allegations of anti-competitive behaviour, Apple has taken the rather unusual step of openly embracing AirTag competitors, even going so far as to announce them two weeks before it unveiled its own first-party product.
Of course, when you look at it from a certain point of view, Apple’s strategy makes a lot of sense — and not just to avoid more antitrust accusations. As cool as it is, the AirTag is merely a $29 accessory for an iPhone (or iPad). Apple isn’t out to make a massive business of selling AirTags — in fact, we wouldn’t be all that surprised if they’re not even being sold at a huge profit — as the ultimate goal of the AirTag is to enhance the iPhone user experience.
Keeping the AirTag and its Find My network technology to itself doesn’t really help Apple in any way, and while we’re fairly sure they’d still prefer iPhone customers buy actual AirTags, anything that keeps folks in the Apple ecosystem is a win.
Hence, Apple’s decision to open up its Find My network last year wasn’t solely the result of Tile’s sabre-rattling (although we’re fairly confident that helped), but also would have stemmed from a desire to provide a wealth of options for iPhone users. If the Find My network is confined to AirTags, it would be little more than a novelty, but extending it into products like e-bikes has the potential to make it go mainstream.
Still, the most unexpected third-party Find My product that Apple announced last month was one that appears to be a direct competitor to the AirTag: Chipolo’s ONE Spot item tracker.
To be fair, Apple clearly made sure that the ONE Spot wouldn’t steal its thunder. None of the third-party Find My network items are expected to land before June, while AirTags went on sale on April 30. Since all three vendors — Chipolo, Belkin, and VanMoof — are in sync for a June release, there’s good reason to believe that this schedule may have been part of their contract with Apple to give the AirTag a head start.
Chipolo ONE Spot vs. AirTag
Now that the AirTag is out there, however, Chipolo opened up pre-orders for its ONE Spot tags this week. These actually provide a somewhat compelling alternative to buying an AirTag, although it’s important to note that they don’t share all the same features. Here are some of the key differences:
- Price: At $28 each, the ONE Spot is ever-so-slightly cheaper than the $29 AirTag. This adds up even more, however, if you’re buying a four-pack, where the price of Chipolo’s tags comes in at $90, as opposed to the $99 AirTags.
- No Accessories Required: The cost savings become even more significant when you consider that the Chipolo already has a hole in it, so it’s ready to be mounted to something like a key ring. Unless you’re willing to risk drilling a hole into your AirTag, you’ll need to spend at least $10 more on a holder for it if you plan to mount it to anything.
- No Ultra Wideband Support: This is the biggest differentiator between the AirTag and every third-party Find My network device right now. While Apple will open up the U1 chip to third parties, it hasn’t done so quite yet, so neither Chipolo, Belkin, nor VanMoof can offer Precision Finding.
- Water Resistance: The ONE Spot only has an IPX5 water resistance rating, while the AirTag has a higher IP67 rating. In practical terms, this means the ONE Spot won’t necessarily survive a dunk in the water, nor is it certified as completely sealed against dust.
- Privacy Features: At this point, there’s no indication that Chipolo’s tags support the same anti-stalking features that are offered with an AirTag. While it’s possible that an iPhone will detect a rogue Chipolo ONE Spot moving with you in the same way as an AirTag, Chipolo doesn’t list this as a feature of ONE Spot. There’s also no indication that the ONE Spot will emit a noise after three days like an AirTag does. Apple implies in the iOS 14 user guide that the “item safety alerts” feature works with third-party items, although its primary support article on the subject only refers to AirTags. We may see an update to this once ONE Spot tags actually begin shipping, however.
Beyond these five points — and the obvious style differences, of course — the ONE Spot and AirTag are otherwise very similar in terms of features. Both use the same Find My network technology, so you should have an equal chance of pinpointing the location of a ONE Spot or an AirTag on a map.
As noted above, the biggest missing feature is Precision Finding, which no third-party Find My trackers support yet. While this doesn’t matter for an e-bike — you should be able to see it with the naked eye by the time you get close enough for Precision Finding to kick in — it would definitely be useful in ONE Spot, but it’s also fair to say that not everybody needs to care.
For example, Precision Finding only works if you have an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12. This means that if you have an older iPhone — or you’re buying a tag for a family member who does — then an AirTag won’t offer any better location features than a ONE Spot. In this case, both tags will work in the same manner when it comes to finding your stuff, so the only difference comes down to the design.
The ONE Spot also uses the same type of CR2032 battery as an AirTag, supports NFC for identifying lost tags, including Find My’s Lost Mode, and even uses Pairing Lock to prevent somebody from appropriating your ONE Spot if they happen to come across it and decide they want to keep it for themselves.
Those who have used Chipolo’s tags before, however, should note that the ONE Spot does not support Chipolo’s own app. This means you won’t be able to use features of Chipolo’s other tags like proximity notifications, nor will you be able to use them to locate your iPhone.
At the end of the day, Chipolo’s ONE Spot tags are actually a pretty solid choice for anybody who wants to use the Find My network and doesn’t need Precision Finding, and doesn’t want to hassle with third-party accessories. They offer the same Find My network support and a design that some may prefer to that of the AirTag.
Still, at only $1–$2.25 less than an AirTag, it may be worth paying a bit more just to have the Ultra Wideband support. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that you can mix-and-match items on the Find My network, so there’s no reason you can’t use both AirTags and ONE Spot tags together to get the best of both worlds for your specific needs.