An interesting way to keep track of your stuff with Tile

An interesting way to keep track of your stuff…

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About 20 months ago, Tile – a new company initially funded as a Kick Starter project has started shipping its product. I was really hot-to-trot for them, as the solution they offered provided a quick and easy way for you to find things you often misplace. For $50 bucks, you got four Tiles (three plus one bonus tile). I jumped on in January 2013, a number of months after the program had been initially announced in either late 2011 or H1 2012. (However, my timing may be slightly off. Please correct me if I’m wrong in the Comments, below…)

The process was fairly simple, you attach a Tile to an object, pair it with your smartphone and then if you lose it, you can use your phone to track it down. The app on your phone provides you with the last known GPS location of the Tile; and use play a game of Hot-Cold until you actually find the object that the Tile is connected to.

Tile recently began shipping their products to its initial backers, and I received mine a few weeks ago. I’ve had a chance to stick one on my keys (of which I am CONSTANTLY misplacing..!) and I have the following commentary on the app and the product; and I have a few suggestions for Tile as well…

My Biggest Use Case
Tiles product itself is pretty ingenious. It uses Bluetooth 4.x and BT-LE to help you find the object you’ve attached the actual Tile to. As long as the Tile isn’t over a year old (more on that later) and as long as the Tile is in range of your smartphone, you’ll be able to find what you’ve lost.

This was a HUGE deal for me, as my family has a HORRIBLE habit of misplacing the universal TV remote in the family room. The kids don’t put it back where it’s supposed to be, it gets shoved between couch or chair cushions, the baby walks it to another room, or some other weird result. I often spend more time looking for the remote than I do actually watching my beautiful, 51″, plasma HDTV.

I have about 5 TV’s in the house and a universal remote for each. None of them are the same brand, so each remote is really tied to the TV it’s paired with. Unfortunately, the family tends to take remotes from one room to the other (as the cable boxes all use the same signals)

I thought this was going to be the best thing in the world! I could attach a Tile to the remote and then instead of spending hours looking for it, I could simply track it down with my iPhone and start watching TV. My Backer’s shipment of Tiles even included a way to attach a Tile to my often wayward remote. I really thought I would be ecstatic with this solution. This was really the only reason why

Tile – It’s a [Huge] Mamma-Jamma
When you back something on Kickstarter or other crowd-source funding site, you really have no idea what you’re buying or funding. I love the idea of Tile, but I’ll tell you this – I’m very disappointed. The darn thing is HUGE! I thought it would be about half the size it actually is.

The concept is right: a water-tight, one piece BT-LE widget that easily attaches to items, allowing you to track them down if they get misplaced. If your spouse forgets their purse or wallet at a diner you stopped at while travelling down the road, you can go back and easily find it. If you’ve lost your keys, but you know they’re SOMEWHERE in the house, you can quickly track them down. If your granddaughter walked away with the universal remote in each room and she’s not quite two, and doesn’t speak sentences yet… You get the picture. It’s pretty awesome.

Unfortunately, the devices themselves are very large – about 1.5 to 2.0 inches square, with a large hole in the upper left corner allowing you to put them on a key ring or other fob. They’re also about a quarter of an inch thick. When I said they should be about half that size… Yeah. You see what I mean. These things are LARGE.

The device can’t be end user serviced. It has a battery in it, but they last about one year and then need to be replaced. The letter “E” serves as a button for the device. It allows you to turn discovery on and then be paired with your smartphone. The devices also have an electronic speaker that plays a cute little melody to let you know where it is.

Tile also provides you with two different pieces of specially shaped and sized two sided tape that will allow you to attach your Tile to the side of something you want to keep track of – like my remote – so you don’t have to worry about fixing it to something so that it can be successfully paired without falling off of the object you want it to help you locate.

Don’t get me wrong. The devices work. They work well. However, they’re about two times as big as they should be. I understand that these are 1.0 versions of this hardware; but you’d think that we would be able to engineer a smaller device that fulfilled its charter.

The speaker on it also isn’t very loud, so if you’re hard of hearing (like me), you may have trouble hearing it as it calls out its location to you. It’s a good thing that your smartphone can determine distance (but not necessarily bearing) from your current location. Just remember that if you frequently use the device to shout out its location, its battery may not last its stated year of life; and at $20 bucks PER Tile, the replacement costs are a bit steep, too.

The Tile App
Unfortunately, I’m not entirely happy with the app, either. While it again, does a decent job, I expected a bit more. I’m not ENTIRELY certain just WHAT that was… maybe a better UI and/ or design. I’m not certain. However, it doesn’t do that Hot-Cold thing I mentioned earlier, and I really thought that it would.

The app shows you a GPS location, and that’s nice; but if I KNOW my keys are in the house and I’m just not sure what room they’re in, a GPS or map location isn’t going to help me. I need to know how close I am (or am not) to my target. Having some sort of “compass-styled” locator or other UI that would give me a “warmer… warmer…, cooler, colder…” kind of look would be better.

The musical tones and chirping that Tile does is nice, but if the thing you’re looking for is underneath some couch or chair cushions, you may not hear it. Having some kind of real time directional locator as part of the app would really be much more value-added and a bigger help. Having my phone vibrate also doesn’t help. All that tells me is that “it’s close.” It doesn’t tell me exactly where it is.

While the Tile app will give you a GPS location of the Tile’s last known GPS location, it won’t tell you where it is if what you’re looking for grew legs and decided to walk away. If someone took your purse or wallet from that diner and drove away with it, Tile won’t broadcast its GPS location to your phone and let you know where it is. That could be problematic, and would be really cool if it did do that. Unfortunately, there’s no way for your Tile to “call home” if it goes out of range of your smartphone.

Conclusion
I’m really torn here. I want to like these so much; but Tile has three big problems going against it.

1. They’re big
2. They need to be replaced annually
3. They’re expensive

When I bought these, I imagined something, as I’ve said, about half its current size. Tile adds a huge amount of bulk to an already crowded key ring. I don’t have unnecessary or old keys on my ring. I use each one, almost every day. If all I had was a car and a house key, that would be one thing, but with office keys, car keys, house keys and filing cabinet keys on my key ring, a 2×2 square, plastic widget takes up a lot of space.

If you look at the Tile website, you get the impression that each Tile has a 12 month life span. From the way their documentation reads, you get the idea that on each Tile’s anniversary, they stop functioning whether their battery dies or not. That’s totally NOT cool. I know Tile has to have some sort of working business model, but I honestly wouldn’t have bought into these if I knew they had a 12 month shelf life.

At $50 bucks for four Tiles, that’s $12.50 a Tile; and a bit much in my opinion. At regular price, these are $19.99 for one. That’s way too much (and $30 more a year for the original 4 I bought.) I’d rather see these priced at $9.99, since they have to be replaced annually.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate that I have to turn my family room upside down to find my remote for my TV nearly every day. I don’t like misplacing my keys. However, it’s unlikely that either of those conditions are going to change. I was wishing for something like this when Tile came around. The only thing that I can say is that I hope version 2.0 is much improved over version 1.0.

While Tile fulfills its mission, its current version software can use a huge upgrade and its hardware should be sent to a fat farm. The app should do a lot more than it does in terms of local location. I’d like a better hot-cold UI than what I have now. It would also be cool to see Tile do more with Location Services. The initial GPS and map data that Tile captures after it locates a device is nice, but having it phone home would be much better for those things that can grow legs and walk away.

Tile works and does a decent job, but its hardware size makes it a bit impractical for some of the things I’d really like to track with it. Having a smaller form factor would make it easier to attach to my universal TV remote… and easier to hide. I’m also not pleased with the shelf life or their cost.

It’s a good accessory; but I’m not as happy with its execution as I thought it would be. I also think that the effort will ultimately fail, as the annual cost won’t be seen as value added as it would or should be at a lower price point. Tile is a nice to have convenience; but not much more than that.

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