Apple’s AirTags have been rumored to be coming soon for so long, it’s starting to feel like these Apple-built key trackers may never get here. But signs are mounting that the long wait is just about over. The iOS 14.5 beta contains a number of hints that some sort of expanding tracking feature is imminent, and there’s increasing chatter of an Apple April event where AirTags are on the agenda. (I know, I know — just as they’ve been on the agenda in every Apple event for the past year.)
But let’s say this is the month when AirTags do finally arrive. That will mean a new way for iPhone users to keep tabs on keys, backpacks and other valuable items. And it will mean stepped-up competition for Tile.
Right now, Tile makes the best key finders available. But Apple’s rumored approach to AirTags is very different from what we’ve come to expect from most trackers. This AirTags vs. Tile comparison offers a closer look at how Tile has come to dominate the key-finding business, and how Apple figures to change things up.
|AirTags (rumored)||Tile Mate/Tile Pro|
|Size||0.2 inches thick, 1.2-inch diameter||1.4 x 1.4 x 0.24 inches (Mate); 1.65 x 1.65 x 0.26 inches (Pro)|
|Compatibility||iPhone 11 or later||Android, iOS|
When we talk about Tile’s trackers, we’re talking about four different versions of the product. The $35 Tile Pro is at the head of the family, with the longest range and loudest alarm. For $10 less, you can pick up the Tile Mate, which has half the range of the Pro.
Tile also makes specialty trackers. The $30 Tile Slim is thin enough to slip into a wallet, while the Tile Sticker is meant to fasten onto things like computers or luggage. It’s sold in multi-device packs, with two Stickers going for $40.
It sounds like Apple’s not going to offer as diversified a lineup of trackers. As far as we know, there will be just a single version of Apple’s AirTags, though it’s possible Apple could go the route that Samsung did with its SmartTag product. Samsung’s key finder comes in a $30 version that connects to your phone via Bluetooth, and a just-announced $40 version that includes ultra-wideband connectivity.
According to leaker Max Weinbach, Apple has settled on a $40 price for the AirTags, which means they’ll cost more than the most expensive Tile key finder.
Tile key finders connect to your phone via Bluetooth, letting you track valuable items from a smartphone app. Thanks to that Bluetooth connectivity, you can use a Tile tracker with either an Android device or an iPhone; the company makes both Android and iOS versions of its tracking app.
AirTags are likely to be an iPhone-only affair, as Apple looks to leverage its massive installed base of iOS devices. It sounds like you’ll interact with the Apple-built trackers from within the Find My app, which comes preinstalled with iOS 14. This software can already track your Apple hardware and pinpoint locations of friends.
Not every iPhone may be able to take advantage of AirTags. The trackers are expected to work with the U1 Ultra Wideband sensor included in the iPhone 11 and later — more on that below. This means that older Apple phones will have to turn to other key finders (like, say, Tile’s).
Tile’s trackers are proof that it’s hip to be square. Both the Tile Pro and Tile Mate use square designs that include a hole for attaching the tracker to a keychain. Of the two Tiles, the 1.65 x 1.65 x 0.26-inch Pro is slightly larger than the 1.4 x 1.4 x 0.24-inch Mate.
Initial Tiles had a non-replaceable battery, forcing you to replace your key finder after about a year of use. A couple generations ago, Tile switched to replaceable batteries, at least for the Pro and Mate. (The designs of the Tile Slim and Tile Sticker make replacing the battery a non-starter, but those devices will last three years before their built-in batteries conk out.)
Most everyone expects the AirTags to adopt a circular design. Weinbach contends the Apple trackers will be 0.2 inches thick with a 1.2-inch diameter. In other words, hold up a 50-cent piece, and you’ve got the general idea.
Given Apple’s focus on reducing e-waste, it seems very unlikely that the AirTags would feature a non-replaceable battery, unless that battery could be recharged. Rumors dating back to last year point to a replaceable battery for the AirTags.
Like almost every other key finder, Tile relies on Bluetooth connectivity. The advantage of this is that it’s easy to set up, and it means that the tracker works with any kind of smartphone. The disadvantage is that Bluetooth can offer only so much range.
The Tile Pro, which has the best range of any key finder we’ve tested, can stay connected to a phone up to 400 feet in most cases. That’s helpful for tracking down keys you might have misplaced in your house. But it’s less ideal for other uses — namely tracking down valuables when they’re a greater distance away or, heaven forfend, if you’ve lost them completely and you don’t know where.
AirTags would tackle this issue by extending the range with which you could track objects. Apple could do this by tapping into the U1 sensor featured in every iPhone released since 2019 (with the exception of the iPhone SE that came out last year). Ultra wideband can also include more precise tracking info to help you locate misplaced objects more quickly.
Besides tracking down misplaced keys, Tile also has a two-way finder feature, where you can press on a tracker to make your phone ring, in case you can’t remember where that device is. Through a subscription, you can also get alerts if you leave home without your Tile tracker (and whatever it’s attached to).
We’re unaware of any features Apple will add beyond basic tracking with AirTags. But code in the upcoming iOS 14.5 release hints at an anti-stalking feature that will alert you if an unrecognized AirTag tracker is trying to keep tabs on your location.
There could be space for both AirTags and Tile key trackers, since the products serve different purposes and could appeal to different audiences. And we’ll need to get the definitive word from Apple on just what AirTags can and can’t do before we can make any definitive AirTags vs. Tile judgements.
Still, there are few bigger players in the consumer tech space than Apple. And its entry into the key-finding business figures to shake things up for everyone.