This company wants to put a Bluetooth tracker in every device you own

Tile is all in on forgetfulness.

The California-based startup has spent the last few years finding lost items with its brand of Bluetooth trackers, little square fobs that can attach to a personal item (say, a keychain), pair with an app, and keep tabs on that item’s location. They aren’t perfect, but they can be handy for the especially forgetful or paranoid.

Now, the company is hoping to expand that seemingly simple business in a couple of ways.

A thinner Tile

First, it’s launching a new tracker, dubbed Tile Slim. That’s available today for $30, or $100 for a pack of four. (By comparison, the original costs $25 for one, or $70 for four.) As the name suggests, it’s essentially a thinner version of the existing Tile — 2.4mm, less than half as thick as its 5.3mm predecessor.

It’s a bit taller and wider (54x54mm vs. 37x37mm), and it ditches the original’s keyring-friendly cutout in the process, but it’s lighter (0.33oz vs. 1.3oz), and it’s now skinny enough to slide into most wallet pockets.

Beyond that, we’re more or less looking at the same device as before — for better or worse.

I’ve had a Tile Slim on hand for the past couple of days, and it’s worked as advertised. It’s still easy to set up through the Tile app (iOSAndroid), it still gives you the handy ability to remotely ring your smartphone, and most importantly, it still does a reliable job of narrowing down where a paired item is actually located.

Using it to find something is still like playing your own game of digital scavenger hunt. All of the little bonus features from the original — like being able to let a friend ring a Tile and update its location from afar — are still there, too. For what it is, it works. If the skinnier form factor suits you better, it’s the one to get.

A couple of specs appear to have been downgraded with the size change, though. The original’s ringer is a bit louder — 90dB, compared to the Slim’s 82dB — and the Slim appears to lack any sort of water-resistance. It does come with a wider selection (i.e., four) of ringtones, though, so that’s a thing.

More significantly, the fundamental issues remain. First and foremost is battery life: As with the original, the Tile Slim’s battery is said to last for a year, and can’t be replaced when it dies.

Instead, you have to go through the company’s replacement program, where you can buy a new tracker at a discount. Current Tile users due for an upgrade will be able to buy a Slim for $21. Either way, you’re paying a yearly subscription just to lend some sort of peace of mind to your absent-mindedness.

That might not be worth it for some, given that a device like this is better suited for finding items around the house than things you left across town. Bluetooth’s range is inherently limited, and like the original, the Slim can only keep a connection from about 30-100 feet away, depending on how much is between you and your item.

Tile’s solution to this remains its “Community Find” feature, which creates a silent, anonymous mesh network from everyone using the Tile app. If an active user passes your lost tracker, Tile recognises that, and updates your app’s map (and sends you text and email alerts) with the location of where it was seen. This still works with the Slim, but it’s not bulletproof, and it’s naturally more effective in more densely populated areas.

Tile without Tiles

Which brings us to Tile’s second announcement: It’s licensing out its smart location tech and network to other companies, through what it calls the “Tile Smart Location Platform.” The company has hinted at it before, but the idea is that, instead of having to manually stick a Tile with whatever gadget you don’t want to lose, that gadget would have Tile’s tracking abilities already baked in.

“We’ve all heard of ‘Intel Inside,'” said Tile CEO and co-founder Mike Farley in an interview. “We’re creating a sort of ‘Tile inside.'”

Tile lose keysYouTubeThe original Tile tracker.

The company has three partners lined up to start, all of which are smaller startups: Electric scooter company EcoReco will embed the tech in upcoming rides, accessory maker Nomad will use it in an upcoming battery pack, while a startup called Zillion will include it in a future “smart wallet.” All of those’ll be available by the holidays.

Farley says these three will use Tile’s own app for tracking purposes, but that the company will eventually launch an SDK that allows partners to incorporate Tile functionality into their own software.

As for whether or not Tile will work with bigger brands going forward, Farley would only say that the company is “talking to all the players you can imagine.”

He did envision one scenario, though. “Right now, I can stick a Tile onto the side of my Beats headphones,” he said. “But wouldn’t it be so much more convenient if we could just incorporate that Tile technology right into the Beats headphones?”

Again, none of this would stop Bluetooth’s range problems. The big benefit of having Tile tech in more devices, though, is that it’d bolster the Community Find workaround mentioned above. More users means a larger lost and found. (As it is now, Farley says the company’s sold more than 6 million Tiles to date.)

So, consider Tile another company banking on the Internet of Things. Whether or not anyone decides to indulge its Intel-esque ambitions, however, remains to be seen.

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