Tile combines a smartphone app with tiny plastic tags to help you locate lost keys, stolen purses, misplaced wallets, and any other personal items. The technology also promises to create a network of users that could assist in recovering stolen items as well. The product will “open up new ways of finding stuff that people didn’t think were possible,” said Nick Evans, co-founder of Tile.
Here’s how it works. The Tile tags themselves are small, waterproof plastic squares that are no bigger than a slim custom USB drive with a key-ring loop on one corner and a two-sided adhesive strip. They’re inconspicuous and stylish at the same time. You then attach your Tile tag to any of your personal items. If any of these items is ever stolen or goes missing, the Tile app radar sensor will increase in strength as you get closer to your lost stuff, as long as you’re within 50-150 feet of the Tile tag.
This might seem as though it limits Tile’s dependability on tracking stolen items, but actually there’s more to it than that. If someone takes your bicycle, purse, or laptop with a Tile tag attached to it, you can mark the tag as a lost item on your phone. If the item is within range of another Tile app user, their receiver will pick it up and alert you of its location.
Granted, even with the large amount of pre-orders that Tile has already received, there’s still a good chance that only a small number of users will be within distance of you upon the product’s launch in the fall of 2013. But like Waze and other network based apps before it, as Tile becomes more popular and its user base grows, you’ll be much more likely to have your thief cross paths with the Tile app. There is of course the every growing concern with privacy that comes with sharing your location data with the public at any given moment. But some will more than likely see it as a means to an end in this regard.
The last crucial part of the product is energy consumption. How do you keep a product like this running smoothly and efficiently? For that Tile turned to Apple’s Bluetooth Low Energy wireless technology. This very low power consumption meant that the Tile tags could go for a full year on a single battery. Given that you can pre-order one from the Tile website for $19, or you can get 4 for just over $50, replacing your Tile tags annually wouldn’t break the bank.
There is a significant downside at the moment however. The Tile app will only support the current iOS devices from Apple, with no mention of future support for Android or Windows-based portable devices. That’s a significant user base Tile is missing out on, and one they’ll eventually have to address if they want to grow.
Overall Tile seems like a step in the right direction. Integrating portable technology with personal items is the next wave of the future, and Tile sure hopes to be along for the ride.