The arrival of Apple’s AirTags has focused on a possibility that had been on the market for a long time: the use of small devices to locate, thanks to the mobile phone, any object that we have lost. These types of locators are slightly larger than a coin and are attached to the object to be controlled. They are usually key rings, although they are also very useful in backpacks, handbags or any other object whose loss causes us serious annoyance.
These devices have a small battery connected to the mobile via Bluetooth, and thanks to an application they place the object to be monitored on a map. As long as it is in range of the wireless connection with the mobile, they will be located. But it should be remembered that these trackers, such as the AirTag, lack GPS or mobile connection, so as soon as they lose the link with the phone, they disappear from the map. When this happens, the app will remember your last position. In the case of the AirTag, the range radius, in order to enter an area of coverage of an iPhone, iPad or Mac, is up to 100 meters, using the 2.4 Ghz signal that allows the regulations and can emit information to a speed of 1Mbps, more than enough for the data you need to broadcast or dump to the network.
The data indicates that we waste a lot of time looking for things. A complete study carried out by IKEA In Spain, it yielded significant data: 48% of Spaniards acknowledged having lost an object each week, and on average, they spent between 1 and 10 minutes to locate it. If we raise this number over time, we will discover that throughout our lives we spend more than six months searching for lost objects. Quite a waste that could be avoided by being more organized, or alternatively using technology.
What do we Spaniards lose most often? At the top of the ranking are the glasses, followed by the pen, and in third position both the mobile and the keys, in a very diverse group of objects. The type of lost property is linked to the habits of each country: if glasses are habitually lost in Spain, in the United States the drama of loss is attributed to the control of the television, while in the United Kingdom what disappears are always the keys, according to another study made by Chipolo, a company that manufactures precisely one of these devices.
Technology to the rescue: this is how a locator works
Fortunately, in the field of lost property the maxim “there is an application for that” is also applicable. Thanks to the mobile and a small device that is tied or inserted in the object to be monitored, your search will be much easier. The corresponding application, through the mechanism described above, will offer us the approximate location of the lost object and we will be able to make the tracker beeps or buzzes to make finding it easier if it’s under a sofa or at the bottom of a drawer.
The emergence of smart speakers allows in some devices and markets, that the search process is also live voice through an “Alexa, find my keys.” What kinds of objects can we have controlled by a locator? In reality, the limitation is marked by the object itself and how easy it is to attach the device to it. Thus, the locators can be easily attached to key rings, inserted into bags or backpacks, and some brands even have flat versions to be placed in wallets. Next we will review the main locators of the market.
The absolute precision of Apple
The Californian manufacturer has been the last to reach this market, but its AirTag – the commercial name of its locator that costs around 32 euros – already have a delivery time of more than one month and it is that they have become the most demanded products of the signature. It is well known that everything Apple touches turns to gold, but do AirTags have any additional ingredients beyond their logo? The answer is yes.
The peculiarity of these devices is that they have a precision search based on the ultra-wideband, which, thanks to the U1 chip, allows guiding the lost object with exact precision. That is, the iPhone will indicate the exact path to the location of the lost AirTag and not the approximate location offered by other devices. This device has another powerful asset that marks distances with its rivals: the possibility of locating the device thanks to the close presence of any iPhone, even if it is not that of its owner.
A Briton tested this collective geopositioning by sending a letter with an AirTag inside it and tracing, thanks to mobile phones near different points along the way, its route with surprising precision. As can be deduced, the potential of the localization will depend on the installed base of iPhone in the market. Will it work just as well in Spain? “In the United States there is much more installed base [de iPhone]”, Explains Pedro Aznar, founder of the Applesfera blog. This expert ensures its correct operation also in Spain —a market with a much lower iPhone installed base—: “Spain has fewer iPhone users, but the population concentration is higher than that unless you go to the tip of a mount, it will be difficult for an iPhone not to pass by at some point ”. Aznar recalls that “a few seconds” of contact in the AirTag coverage radius are enough for the beacon to be activated.
Tile, locators adapted to various objects
The AirTags have once again put into vogue a type of product that already had its market and in which one of its main protagonists is Tile (46 euros in its pro version). This American firm has adapted its catalog over the years and has a varied offer for each type of need. Thus, there is a specific model in the shape of a credit card to put in the wallet, another adhesive to be used, for example, in remote controls, and a Pro model with high performance. Unlike Apple’s locator, the Tiles work with any mobile, whether Android or iPhone, (it can even be managed from Windows) and its most advanced model has a high connection range with the mobile: 122 meters.
As with the rest of the pagers, the battery can be replaced —which lasts for approximately one year—, it is waterproof and it can be activated with the voice by Alexa, Siri or Google. Those who also want a bit of design in the product to wear it with a certain style, this brand offers limited editions with colorful aesthetics that make the product come to life while being worn in a visible area. The Slim model, to add it to the wallet, offers a battery of up to three years, although yes, the rivals of the AirTag lack that beacon function that facilitates the location of the object using any mobile as a reference.
Chipolo, the solution that arose from a conversation between friends
Chipolo’s story is very similar to Tile’s. The project arose as a result of a simple conversation between friends who posed the following question: how was it possible that nothing had been invented to find lost objects? We are in 2013 and that reflection led to a Kickstarter campaign that consolidated the product. Like Tile, Chipolo is today a multinational company that sells all over the world and has now also been a victim of Apple’s “friendly fire”.
The similarities between Tile and Chipolo One (24.9 euros) also reach the product level, the latter being rounded. Its highest model of the range, the Chipolo One Ocean, is made of recycled plastics from the ocean and, like the rest of the models in the range, has an interesting function: it alerts the user of the loss of signal with the locators. This can be interesting to use the locator, for example, with pets, but for this type of use there is a specific product: Tractive.
Tractive, when what we want to have located is the pet
As soon as Apple introduced the AirTags to the market, there were several forums in which buyers planned to use the device to monitor their pets, a use that Apple ruled out outright. Why can’t a tracker Bluetooth to monitor our dog or cat? Physically there is nothing to prevent it and certain models are even waterproof. The limitation, in reality, is in their performance: the range of these devices is limited by Bluetooth, so if the pet escapes from home a few hundred meters, it will not be able to be located.
For this type of need there are certain products such as Tractive (49 euros), a device that has two elements necessary to keep track of our pet: GPS and mobile connection. The operation of Tractive is very similar to that of the rest of the locators listed in this selection: they place the pet at a point on the map, but with the great difference that the presence of the mobile is not necessary in range. That is, the owner of the dog can be in another country and from his position, see in real time where his pet is. Naturally, Tractive requires a mobile connection, so the subscription is necessary (from 9.99 euros per month).
Samsung Galaxy SmartTag
The Samsung Galaxy SmartTag (about 40 euros), presented by the South Korean company in January and of which EL PAÍS did a test in February, is designed to be used as a keychain and thus be able to locate non-connected objects: from a backpack or keys to the car or even a dog. It would be enough to place the device on the pet’s collar to know where it is. The main limitation of this device is that it is only compatible with Samsung smartphones.
The appliance works with bluetooth and allows you to locate objects about 120 meters away, although it will depend on the obstacles on the way, according to Samsung. The user can consult in the app SmartThings the location of the device on a map. Although the results offered by the application are quite accurate, tests carried out by this newspaper sometimes indicated that the Galaxy SmartTag was in the building next door.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.