Stocking Stuffer

Item trackers are the new wireless earbuds

With everyone from Apple to T-Mobile now selling item trackers, these little smart tags are about to become a dime a dozen just like wireless earbuds. Tile needs to wake up.

In my review of Apple’s new AirTags item trackers last week, I basically concluded that Tile was in big trouble. While Tile is busy complaining to Congress about Apple’s anticompetitive behavior, the item tracker company is ignoring the bigger threat: Everyone is coming to eat its lunch and item trackers are about to become a dime a dozen.

Just look at this announcement from T-Mobile today for its LTE-powered SyncUP Tracker that comes out on May 7. It’s an ugly item tracker compared to AirTags, Tile, Chipolo, or Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTags, but it’s got one thing the others don’t: LTE.

T-Mobile says with LTE, the SyncUP Tracker “can be found virtually anywhere” and “gives near real-time tracking and virtual boundary alerts even when hundreds of miles away.” And because it’s using cellular connectivity instead of Bluetooth, T-Mobile says the SyncUP Tracker “doesn’t need to be in specific range or near a smartphone to work.”

SyncUP’s got a bunch of basic item tracker features like an IP67 rating and a speaker to ring it. The downsides appear to be price ($60), battery life (non-replaceable and lasts a week compared to a year for other item trackers), and you need a $5/month data plan (LTE, duh!).

T-Mobile’s SyncUP Tracker has built-in LTE.T-Mobile

Maybe the SyncUP will be a complete dud, but at least T-Mobile’s included a feature that other item trackers don’t have. Now that Apple has come to play with AirTags, more companies are going to start piling in. Whether with better and more innovative features or just straight-up clones that cost less, Tile is about to face competition from every direction. If Amazon isn’t working on an item tracker, someone should pay me for the idea because “Alexa, find my keys” or “Alexa, find my luggage” sounds like a slam dunk, especially if the product can undercut everyone on pricing.

My point is: Item trackers are the new wireless earbuds. Companies big and small are going to get produce them the same way there are hundreds of wireless earbuds that come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. Come the holidays, stockings are going to be stuffed with item trackers the same way streaming media sticks like Chromecasts and Fire TV sticks were gifted to everyone a few years back.

Item trackers are about to become a dime a dozen.

Tile’s best survival plan shouldn’t be focused on bitching about Apple’s practices but making better item trackers. Where’s that rumored Ultra Wideband item tracker? It sucks that Apple isn’t giving third-party companies access to UWB for more precise tracking, but there’s still a massive market of Android users who would love an improved Tile — they’re waiting for it. Instead, they’re turning to other trackers like the Galaxy SmartTag+ to get their fix. If Tile crumbles in the future, it won’t simply be because AirTags arrived on the scene, it’ll be because the company wasn’t agile enough to skate to where the puck is going.

The only reason non-Apple wireless earbuds didn’t get completely owned was that they kept innovating. Companies added active noise-cancellation and longer battery life, forcing Apple to keep up or get left behind. Lower pricing also helps sell non-AirPods. Tile needs to wake up and see the omnidirectional threat and that item trackers are about to become a dime a dozen. Don’t believe me? Here’s a leak for Oppo’s own item trackers. And if Oppo’s making them, you can bet your butt Huawei and Xiaomi or even OnePlus is itching to get in on them. What used to be special will soon be a commodity.

What is next? What can it offer in its products that will put them a few steps ahead of other trackers? The market for smart trackers is projected to double from $413 million in 2019 to $807 million by 2025. It’s growing, not shrinking. Now is the time to show that innovation can compete with the marketing might of a trillion-dollar behemoth. If Tile sits still, it’ll end up like Pebble and Fitbit — pioneers that end up sold for patents.