Technology

Tile is prepping an AirTags competitor that could let you find lost items through walls

Tile is working on a new tracker that relies on ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, which would put the company in direct competition with Apple’s yet-to-be-announced AirTags, according to a report from TechCrunch. The new tracker would go a step further than the company’s Bluetooth devices by allowing you to know more precisely where a lost item is in relationship to yourself, without having to listen for a chime the tracker plays.

Apple’s AirTags haven’t been officially announced, but there’s already a list of potential features they might have, like the ability to remind you if you’ve left an item behind or help you find lost items using augmented reality. Samsung has also expressed interest in offering similar features, so Tile could be sharing space with two larger companies. Apple demoed UWB with its U1 chip in the iPhone 11, which let you direct AirDropped files by pointing your phone, but the tracking applications are even more interesting.

Ultra-wideband (not to be confused with Ultra Wideband 5G from Verizon) operates sort of like Bluetooth Low Energy. It sends out low-energy, short-range pulses at a high frequency that transmit wireless data. With Bluetooth and your phone’s GPS, Tile can show the general location of something on a map, but for anything more precise, it relies on sound to help you find things. A UWB device could work if you’re multiple rooms away, showing you the more precise location of something through walls or floors, while also offering the features Tile currently has.

Imagine finding a lost valuable when it’s out of earshot or locked inside a container. Tile’s app (or Apple’s or Samsung’s) could point you in the right direction with your phone, using augmented reality images superimposed on your camera feed. It actually seems useful and less annoying than a loud chirp from Tile’s trackers (something I almost always accidentally set off).

What’s more exciting is you may already own a device that supports these features. Since the iPhone 11, Apple has been integrating UWB into its popular smartphone with the U1 chip. It’s also started placing the chip in the Apple Watch, starting with the Series 6. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra already features UWB, and the upcoming Galaxy S21 Ultra is confirmed to feature it as well.

Not every device either company sells has it on board (Apple devices like the iPhone SE, Apple Watch SE, and iPad Pro don’t have UWB), but since Apple and Samsung are two of the largest electronic device makers in the world, adoption of UWB could be quick.

There’s no set date for Tile’s launch of its UWB tracker, but UWB seems like it could be a big deal, especially now that Apple has opened up access to the U1 chip in iOS 14. Tile and Apple have disagreed in the past over default location sharing settings that disadvantage Tile, but at least both companies seem to agree on the potential of UWB in 2021.