So Apple have released some BlueTooth tags. As per their standard operating procedure, the rest of us have been using them for years, but now Apple has "invented" them they are suddenly interesting.
Here's my review from 5 years ago of the Chipolo BlueTooth tag. Amusingly, Apple have decided to go with a user-replaceable battery - unlike many of their other devices. I wonder why they didn't go for wireless charging - like the TinTag had a few years ago?
Anyway, the Apple involvement adds three significant things:
- Better directional navigation. Rather than just telling you how far away from the thing you are, it tells you roughly where the thing is.
- Improved community features. Having everyone with an iThing being able to find your lost puppy is a game-changer. Companies like Chipolo could never get that traction by themselves.
- Higher price. Because Apple.
The first two are genuinely useful. First generation tags were able to give you distance and play a little noise. Good for Apple on innovating. With 40% of the UK having an iDevice there's a good chance that someone will walk by your dropped keys.
But the price...
I used the Chipolo and TinTag for a long time - but I couldn't justify the cost. I just don't lose my keys that often. Having them on my luggage was vaguely useful when disembarking from an aeroplane - but hardly essential. In any case, you still want a physical tag with something written on it for people who don't have the right app.
I used Physical Web Tokens which also suffered from the same flaw - overpriced and inaccessible to the majority of people
Is £25 a reasonable price for insurance if you ever lose your bag, keys, or pet? Maybe. And I'm sure the PR teams will shortly begin churning out feel-good stories about how lost dogs were reunited with distraught owners thanks to the magic of Apple.
But do people lose valuable stuff that often? I want to know where I put the spare HDMI cable. Or which cupboard has the nutmug. Or who borrowed my favourite mug. No one is bunging a pony down for that.
I long for the world envisaged by Cory Doctorow in his book Makers - where smart tags are cheap as dirt and ubiquitous.
“One of the big barriers to roommate harmony is the correct disposition of stuff. When you leave your book on the sofa, I have to move it before I can sit down and watch TV. Then you come after me and ask me where I put your book. Then we have a fight. There’s stuff that you don’t know where it goes, and stuff that you don’t know where it’s been put, and stuff that has nowhere to put it. But with tags and a smart chest of drawers, you can just put your stuff wherever there’s room and ask the physical space to keep track of what’s where from moment to moment.
He reached for his computer and asked it to find him the baseball gloves. Two of the drawers on the living-room walls glowed pink. He fetched the gloves down, tossed one to Lester, and picked up his ball.
We're a little way off that dream at the moment. RFID tags are getting pretty cheap - but they're short range. You'd need a network of high-powered sensors in a room to be able to do basic location finding.
So, a hearty well-done to Apple for getting in to the physical location game. Let's hope it re-energises the sector and drives the cost down to ubiquity.