It’s pretty much a given own that Apple plans to introduce small electronic “item finder” tags that will be similar in concept to Tile’s well-known location trackers, and we’ve recently been hearing much more about them, as Apple’s major iPhone launch event approaches next week.
However, an interesting new report by reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo shared by MacRumors, not only confirms all of these rumours, but adds that Apple’s answer to these tags will be to leverage new technologies for a previously unheard of level of accuracy at locating lost items.
Specifically, Kuo says that the new tags will feature ultra-wideband technology (UWB), shedding considerably more light on why Apple is expected to introduce UWB in this year’s iPhones
Not Just for Indoor Navigation
Earlier reports that the iPhone 11 would feature UWB implied that Apple was pursuing the technology for indoor navigation solutions, which made sense since this is what UWB has primarily been designed for; it’s an open standard that can be deployed in indoor spaces like shopping malls to allow devices to be pinpointed to an accuracy of four inches.
However, while Apple undoubtedly is looking to support indoor navigation at some point in the future, the problem with UWB for this purpose is that venues have to actually install the necessary UWB transceivers. Adding UWB receivers to tens of millions of iPhones will probably help to drive the technology, of course — doing for UWB what Apple Pay did for NFC in the United States — but it will still take some time for users to realize a practical benefit from it.
Tracking Apple Tags
Since the key to UWB is its extreme precision at locating devices, it stands to reason that it’s also ideal for tracking lost items, and if Apple’s new tags support UWB along with its new iPhones, this would allow both devices working together to pinpoint a tag to within inches of its actual location. By contrast, Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi aren’t likely to tell you much more than what room something is in at best. This would give Apple’s new tags a huge leg up on Tile’s item trackers, which rely solely on Bluetooth LE.
Although the new tags are expected to include UWB, it seems likely that Apple will still need to include Bluetooth LE support for compatibility with older iPhone models. Since Apple is expected to tie these tags into a crowdsourced network of Apple devices via its new Find My app, it’s doubtful that it would limit compatibility to only this year’s iPhone models. Apple tags that supported only UWB would only be able to be “found” if an iPhone 11 was in close proximity, whereas adding Bluetooth LE support would expand the search to include a billion other iPhone devices running iOS 13.
In this case, while iPhone 11 devices would still offer a greater degree of precision, Bluetooth LE would be more than adequate to let you know whether you left your wallet behind at the restaurant or the gym. Any iPhone running iOS 13 could pick up the Bluetooth LE signal from your tag, but the advantage of having an iPhone 11 is that you’d be able to figure out exactly where you left them once you arrived at that location.
This also explains the rumours that Apple will be adding an ARKit based feature to help locate a lost item through the iPhone camera, pinpointing it with something like a red or orange balloon. This feature isn’t likely to work very well with Bluetooth LE, but would make perfect sense with UWB, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see it limited to the iPhone 11, providing another compelling reason to upgrade to Apple’s latest iPhone.