About $47 billion worth of items are lost each year, and most people spend nearly a year of their life looking for their lost things. That’s according to Tile, the startup behind an eponymous brand of Bluetooth trackers that recently attracted investment from Comcast. Today, six years after the launch of the San Mateo firm’s crowdfunded finder devices, Tile debuted a refreshed lineup boasting something of a first: replaceable batteries.
The new $35 Tile Pro and $25 Tile Mate, which replace the existing Pro and Mate and go on sale this week at Tile.com, Best Buy, Target, and Amazon, ditch built-in disposable power packs for coin-cell batteries. They’re “guaranteed” to last 12 months, according to Simon Fleming-Wood, Tile’s chief experience officer, who explained that the swap posed a bit of an engineering challenge.
“Until now, we hadn’t figured out how to deliver a battery that consistently gets a year of battery life,” he told VentureBeat in an interview. “And we put a lot of thought into the design — particularly the battery door. We didn’t want it to be fidgety, [and] it had to be easy enough for any adult to open and hard enough to open for any kid that wasn’t old enough to do it.”
With the exception of the above-mentioned battery doors and a key ring loop on the Pro, there’s little to visually distinguish the new Tiles from the old ones. They’re made of the same materials and come in the same colors, and they aren’t radically different in size or shape. The new Tile Mate is 34.7 x 34.7 x 6.2mm and weighs 7.5g, compared with 34 x 34 x 4.65 mm and 6.1g; the new Tile Pro is 41.6 x 41.6 x 6.5mm and weighs 12.8g, versus 37.5 x 37.5 x 5.9 mm and 11g.
But that sameness belies under-the-hood improvements. The Tile Mate has a range of 150 feet (up from 100 feet) and a speaker that’s 100 percent louder than the outgoing model’s, while the Tile Pro boasts double the range (300 feet, up from 200 feet) and a speaker twice are powerful as the new Tile Mate.
They’re durable, to boot — both can withstand up to 1,000 cycles in a tumble dryer, as well as high humidity, water exposure, and other extreme conditions.
“You name it, we tested it,” Fleming-Wood said.
The Tile Pro and Tile Mate stick with Bluetooth 4.0 as their wireless tracking protocol of choice, which Fleming-Wood said was a considered decision. He noted that Bluetooth 5.0, the latest standard, isn’t supported by a broad range of devices just yet and that it imposes higher battery demands than Bluetooth 4.0.
“We wanted to deliver a great experience without having to increase the size of the removable battery,” he said. “There isn’t a timeline for Bluetooth 5.0-enabled Tile devices, but rest assured that very few companies care more about Bluetooth than us.”
The new Tile Mate and Tile Pro were just the first part of Tile’s two-pronged announcement today. The other was Tile Premium, a $30-a-year (or $3-a-month) subscription service that adds functionality to new and existing Tile devices.
At launch, headlining features include Smart Alerts, which notify you with a text message when you leave a geofenced area (e.g., home or work) without a Tile, and Location History, which shows a map of addresses of all the places your Tiles have been in the last 30 days.
The latter is as straightforward as they come. From an options tab within the Tile app, you can click through multiple layers of the app and see where your various Tiles have been.
“We did an experiment in the San Jose airport where we put Tile capabilities into the routers of the network,” said Fleming-Wood. “When a Tile was lost, it updated basically immediately. It’s almost impossible to lose a Tile.”
Smart Alerts, which is currently in beta, is a bit more complicated. Here’s how it works: When you set up a Tile for the first time, you’ll be prompted to enter your home address and draw a geofence around your house. Then, using a combination of Bluetooth and server-based machine learning, the Tile app will attempt to figure out when you’ve unintentionally left a Tile behind. Over time, as it gets to know you better, the accuracy of alerts will improve.
“It’s part of our effort to evolve Tile from a place you go to help you find things to something that helps prevent you from losing those things in the first place,” Fleming-Wood said. “It’s proactive instead of reactive.”
Also in tow with Tile Premium is priority customer care via phone, a battery replacement program that supplies Tile Mate (2018) and Tile Pro (2018) owners with new batteries once a year, and an extended three-year warranty program (as opposed to the standard two-year deal).
Fleming-Wood stressed that non-subscribers won’t be left out in the cold — Tile Premium won’t replace any existing free features. Rather, he said, it’s aimed at a “subset” of users keen to tap into cloud-enabled services.
“From a broader … perspective, [the monthly fee] covers the server cost associated with Smart History [and] Smart Alerts,” he said.
There’s a business component to it, too: Through its partner program, Tile supplies its tracking tech to third-party manufacturers like Herschel, Bose, and Blunt Umbrellas, but it doesn’t charge a licensing fee. Tile Premium’s one way it hopes to monetize that segment of users.
“It’s clear that over time, a majority of users are going to come from [platform] products,” Fleming-Wood said. “We want to get Tile in as many products as possible.”
The company is well on its way to world dominance. To date, Tile has sold more than 15 million Bluetooth-enabled trackers, which locate 4 million items daily with a 90 percent success rate.
And it expects the recently announced Comcast partnership will cement its lead.
“We like it for several reasons,” Fleming-Wood said. “Comcast has a massive customer base [and] t’ll expand Tile’s finding power into people’s homes and businesses.”
It goes without saying that cable subscribers have a lot of Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-enabled equipment in their homes — namely gateways, routers, and set-top boxes. All of those, he noted, can be used to expand Tile’s network of locating devices.
“That’s what we’re chugging toward: a real-time finding network,” he said.