By Todd Haselton, CNBC
Apple’s $29 AirTag lost item tracker begins shipping on April 30. I walked through what it’s like last week, but I recently bought a similar tracker from Tile.
Tile has been in the lost item tracking business for several years, and now counts Apple as its closest competitor.
I took both devices for a test drive to show you how they differ and to help explain why Tile is so upset that Apple is moving in on its turf.
Tile trackers aren’t new. They’ve been around for years and have been leading the market. Owners seem to love them. They’re convenient because you can attach them to bags, keys or other items, and then see where they are on a map on your phone.
Like AirTag, Tile trackers don’t use GPS. Instead, they rely on a network of other Tile devices that communicate with each other over Bluetooth. So, the more Tile devices there are out there, the greater your chances that someone with a Tile passes by yours and alerts your phone of your lost item’s location. Tile has sold more than 35 million devices, not including products from more than 30 partners with its technology built-in, which make up its network that spans 195 countries.
Apple’s AirTag is similar, except it taps into not only other AirTags but also Apple’s existing network of iPhones and Macs, which is nearing a billion devices. That gives Apple an advantage over Tile from the get-go, since it has a bigger network at launch, even if lots of people don’t buy an AirTag.
Here are a few of the things I like about Tile that you don’t get with Apple AirTag:
- There’s a button on it you can press to ring your phone, in case you can’t find it around the house.
- There are several sizes and shapes. I bought a $25 Tile Sticker that’s about the size of a quarter, a hair smaller than an AirTag. You can stick it to anything. AirTag requires a keychain or a separate holder.
- Speaking of sizes, Tile sells a $29.99 “Slim” model that looks like a credit card and slips into a wallet. The Slim and Sticker models have up to three years of battery life, which is longer than the one year you get from Apple. But, the Pro and Mate versions of the Tile tags — the Pro has a louder speaker and longer Bluetooth range than the Mate — have user-replaceable batteries, which last a year, like AirTag.
- Tile has a bunch of colors, including limited-edition options with patterns that you might like if you don’t want a white and silver AirTag that can only be customized with a few letters or an emoji.
- Tile works with Android and iPhone, so you can still track stuff even if you don’t use an iPhone.
- Tile’s tracking tech is built into other products, from earbuds to laptops and retainer cases.
But the biggest difference is the experience. AirTag is a lot more seamless since you just pull the battery tag and click “connect” on your iPhone.
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