Tile Just Revealed Its Ultra-Wideband Apple AirTag Rival | Can It Compete?

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Earlier this year, we heard rumours 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-rumoured AirTag, and it appears that it’s now getting ready to launch its first UWB tag sometime next year.

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.

However, this also leaves Tile in the unenviable position of trying to please everybody, which sometimes results in making numerous compromises.

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.

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.

After all, as with Tile’s previous tags, the new Tile Ultra can only be found by other devices that happen to also be running the Tile app.

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.

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.

Plus, most people know what to do with a QR code. It’s much less likely that somebody who finds an AirTag will even be aware that they can scan it for more information, much less know how to do so.

Who Are Tile’s Tags For?

We still think Apple’s AirTags are the better choice overall — especially if you’re worried about losing your items or leaving them behind when you’re out in the world. Though, Tile’s tags are not without their advantages.

Chief among these is the fact that they offer cross-platform ultra-wideband support. This means that if you decide to switch platforms, or live in a household made up of iPhone and Android users, you won’t have to worry about whether your item tracking tags will work properly.

Tile promises that the Tile Ultra will use the U1 chip in the iPhone 12 and later to implement its own version of precision finding, so you’ll be able to locate your lost items much more accurately than before, and of course, this will work in the Tile app on both iOS and Android devices — as long as the device has an Ultra-Wideband chip, of course.

The “Lost and Found” QR codes are also coming to the entire Tile device lineup, except for the Tile Sticker, which means that even if you have a lower chance of locating your item on a map through Tile’s own crowdsourced network, it’s much more likely that somebody who finds it will be able to figure out how to get it back to you.

Ultimately, though, if your primary use for an item tracking tag is just to know when you’ve left your wallet behind, or figure out which couch cushion your keys are hiding under, then a Tile tag will likely serve you just as well as an Apple AirTag.

Further, while you can accessorize your Apple AirTags, they’re still available in only one style, whereas Tile offers a whole array of different designs, from a slim version designed to fit into your wallet to button-sized stickers that can be attached to remotes and other electronic devices without the need for special cases or other accouterments.

That said, the biggest knock against Tile could be the price. Apple’s AirTags start at $29, but that gets as low as $24.75 if you opt for a four-pack.

Tile’s non-UWB Mate comes in at $24.99 for a single tag, although it drops to $17.50 if you’re willing to spring for four. However, the prices only go up from there, with the Tile Slim and Tile Pro going for $34.99 each.

The company has yet to say what the pricing will be for the Tile Ultra when it ships early next year, but with a name like “Ultra”, it’s a safe bet that it’s going to be the most expensive tag in Tile’s product lineup, which will make it a tougher sell against the $29 AirTag.

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