Editorial: Apple has a huge opportunity with its rumored Bluetooth trackers

Posted:
in iOS
Rumors have ramped up regarding Apple's Bluetooth tracking devices, and if true, Apple Sherlocking Tile could be a huge feature for absent-minded Apple fans.

Apple has a huge opportunity with its Bluetooth trackers
Apple has a huge opportunity with its Bluetooth trackers

What we know

After first popping up in an early iOS 13 build at the beginning of summer, more information has been gleaned thanks to another iOS 13 developer beta and were among our predictions on what to see during Apple's September 10th event.

As it stands, rumors have pointed to these trackers being standalone devices that can be attached to keys, bags, and other personal devices. The as-yet-unannounced trackers appear to be similar to the Tile Bluetooth Low Energy tracking devices, allowing users to locate misplaced items.

Tracking items associated with the trackers will be done from the revamped "Find My" app as part of iOS 13. Just like Tile, or like AirPods, it looks like Apple's trackers can emit an audible tone when being located. So, in theory, they can sound an alert if they are left behind, and can be placed in a white zone that will disable the tether feature.

A crowd-sourced feature is also outlined, where any iPhone can send back a location if a device is placed in lost mode. It isn't yet clear if this spans all devices, or just a user's fleet of devices registered with iCloud -- but more on that in a bit.

More unique, and similar to what appears to be the now-defunct Pixie tracker system, an augmented reality feature could be in the cards. In this mode, we envision scanning an area with the iPhone camera, and an augmented reality indicator showing us where the item is located in the space.

What is possible

Pondering these rumored devices, what has piqued our interest is the potential Apple has to do more with the technology.

An image of Apple's Bluetooth tracker from the iOS 13 beta code
An image of Apple's Bluetooth tracker from the iOS 13 beta code


An attachable tag on some devices, like a keyring, makes sense. On other objects, like headphones, this becomes more difficult. These are the devices Apple can really do something with -- and they may already have.

Apple already sells many devices with Bluetooth wireless connectivity that are prone to be misplaced. AirPods, Beats headphones, and even possibly the Apple Watch could benefit from not just tracking abilities, but the ability to hunt it down inside a space.

It could be possible with merely a software update to allow these accessories to work in the same way as standalone trackers.

As an example, after a software update, you may able to use your iPhone to scan your living room for the Apple TV remote. Or, it could allow you to get notified if you leave the gym without your AirPods with geofencing similar to what HomeKit allows.

Pushing the envelope even further, Apple could easily open this up to third-parties to integrate into their products. Other headphones and Bluetooth devices could integrate right into the Find My app as all of Apple's own devices would.

Tile is already doing this, including the feature with select Bose headphones, the Keysmart keychain organizer, Samsonite luggage, and more.

Apple's control of the stack is what makes this

All of this comes together in a way only Apple can do well. Given Apple's control of the entire iOS stack, from hardware to software, the company could even have more clout in convincing companies to come on board versus Tile. And, if it wants, it could collect some added licensing fees similar to the MFi program each time too.

The crowdsourcing feature at first glance can be incredible, but there are aspects of it that puzzle us. Apple has been working on ad hoc networking, using multiple iPhones, and it appears that the Apple tracker can leverage this to some extent. If the rumors are correct, if you lose your pair of headphones, any time a person with an iPhone walks near them you could get the location sent to you.

We have privacy and bandwidth concerns about the practical application of this, but we'll see how it goes. And, we'll see if that aspect of the tracking is true, or extends beyond your own personal network.

Tracking for the rest of us

There is a clear and documented history of Apple "Sherlocking" features it likes -- most recently with SideCar in macOS Catalina -- and integrating them deep within the OS. This is yet another example.

With an update, millions of users would have powerful device tracking right from their phones. Apple offers unparalleled privacy and synchronization via iCloud. It could work across Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

The object tracking market is huge -- just do a quick Amazon search. But most are half baked, don't have the install base, or have gone under like the augmented reality Pixie tracker. Tile has easily been the most successful of the bunch, but Apple is poised to take it to a whole new level.

If we were Tile, we'd be concerned about the prospect of Apple coming in and launching a tracking alternative. A system that works and is integrated with iOS is clearly a feature that users want. Apple may be best positioned to deliver that feature with a huge install base, existing work in augmented reality, and expertise in Bluetooth,
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 31
    An attachable tag on some devices, like a keyring, makes sense

    And when these tags get hacked? Having one on your keyring tells the car thieves exactly where in the house your car keys are located. Just to make make your car so much easier to steal then! Good one Apple.
    There are already car thieves intercepting the signals from your key fob and even going as far as triggering it into life. I put my keys into a metal tin when I'm at home so I don't need one of these but plenty of people just chuck them on a table. If a thief knows where the keys are then they can get in, grab the keys and drive off before you know it.


  • Reply 2 of 31
    e1618978e1618978 Posts: 6,075member
    Did Tile not have enforceable patents?
    agilealtitude
  • Reply 3 of 31
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,011member
    This is basically iBeacon on steroids, so I can’t imagine Apple won’t release an API at some point in time to allow other 3rd party trackers access.
    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 31
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 21,106member
    Agree that Apple can make a tidy bit of profit by entering the bluetooth tracker segment. I think it's a good move. 

    Use them to track smaller things you might misplace of course, but also vehicles you own and where they are, see when the kids leave school and that they are on the way home, pretty much any finder/location purposes. I expect the use cases to be pretty imaginative and helpful, much more so than Tile can offer. 
    lostkiwianantksundarammuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 5 of 31
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 262member, editor
    An attachable tag on some devices, like a keyring, makes sense

    And when these tags get hacked? Having one on your keyring tells the car thieves exactly where in the house your car keys are located. Just to make make your car so much easier to steal then! Good one Apple.
    There are already car thieves intercepting the signals from your key fob and even going as far as triggering it into life. I put my keys into a metal tin when I'm at home so I don't need one of these but plenty of people just chuck them on a table. If a thief knows where the keys are then they can get in, grab the keys and drive off before you know it.


    Quite a few things to unpack here.

    First, these things are already happening. You can't say "Good one Apple" like they invented the idea of Bluetooth trackers. There are over 6,000 on Amazon. Apple is taking the concept and making it better and more secure than it is now. So actually, yes. Good one Apple. Thank you for making this more secure.

    Second, Apple has a genuine interest in consumer privacy. You can be that all these location details will be kept securely on-device.

    You also already trust Apple with your personal location as well as the location of your phone, Airpods, Mac, etc. If you trust Apple with those, it isn't far off to trust Apple with the location of your keys.

    Lastly, this is still Bluetooth. if someone would "hack" this device, which isn't really possible the way you are proposing, they'd have to be in proximity to the device. So they would have to be within a hundred feet or so to pick up the signal. if they are that close and want your keys, they could just look on your counter, or watch you to see where you put them down. They are keys -- people don't exactly hide them.

    Basically, these aren't legitimate concerns that consumers need to worry about. If a thief is trying to steal your car keys, there are far easier ways than trying to hack Apple's system to see them on the counter, plus, consumers trust Apple with much more sensitive data as it is.
    StrangeDayslostkiwianantksundaramboxcatchermuaddiblolliverCloudTalkinmwhitebigpicsd_2
  • Reply 6 of 31
    An attachable tag on some devices, like a keyring, makes sense

    And when these tags get hacked? Having one on your keyring tells the car thieves exactly where in the house your car keys are located. Just to make make your car so much easier to steal then! Good one Apple.
    There are already car thieves intercepting the signals from your key fob and even going as far as triggering it into life. I put my keys into a metal tin when I'm at home so I don't need one of these but plenty of people just chuck them on a table. If a thief knows where the keys are then they can get in, grab the keys and drive off before you know it.


    The solution is obvious. Get an Apple tracker for your car. :-)
    lolliverJapheyCarnage
  • Reply 7 of 31
    Wgkrueger said:
    An attachable tag on some devices, like a keyring, makes sense

    And when these tags get hacked? Having one on your keyring tells the car thieves exactly where in the house your car keys are located. Just to make make your car so much easier to steal then! Good one Apple.
    There are already car thieves intercepting the signals from your key fob and even going as far as triggering it into life. I put my keys into a metal tin when I'm at home so I don't need one of these but plenty of people just chuck them on a table. If a thief knows where the keys are then they can get in, grab the keys and drive off before you know it.


    The solution is obvious. Get an Apple tracker for your car. :-)
    It would not the Thatcham Level 6 Approved. The car already has one but that is the exception rather than the rule.
  • Reply 8 of 31
    Apple has really missed some blindingly obvious opportunities and this one is no exception. Make it so!
  • Reply 9 of 31
    An attachable tag on some devices, like a keyring, makes sense

    And when these tags get hacked? Having one on your keyring tells the car thieves exactly where in the house your car keys are located. Just to make make your car so much easier to steal then! Good one Apple.
    There are already car thieves intercepting the signals from your key fob and even going as far as triggering it into life. I put my keys into a metal tin when I'm at home so I don't need one of these but plenty of people just chuck them on a table. If a thief knows where the keys are then they can get in, grab the keys and drive off before you know it. 
    So unlikely as to be not worth worrying about. Most car thieves are smashing the window, not becoming cat burglars and creeping around you house with a scanner looking for keys. 

    Your hypothetical is just like the “But muggers will cut your finger off!” and the “Hey, you!” face ID nonsense. 
    tmayanantksundaramNotsofastmuaddiblollivermwhitebigpicskuraiwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 31

    e1618978 said:
    Did Tile not have enforceable patents?
    Implementations are protected, not ideas. If these are implemented differently it’s fine. 
    tmaylolliverbigpicsmacguiwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 31
    Article mentions that the 'Apple Tag' would sound an alarm wen left behind? How would you hear that alarm from, say, thirty feet away (bluetooth max range?) if that 'tag' was locked inside an automobile with the windows up.

    Here's an idea! Make it possible for the tag to be placed on a wristband attached to a baby's wrist. Then, when the adult moves 10. 20, 30 feet away the alarm sounds from the tag AND on the person's iPhone to warn that the baby was left behind!!!!

    All the other features would still be available, but this 'red tagging' (a tag that sounds an alert on the phone, not just itself) could possibly solve (in some instances) a potentially deadly situation!
  • Reply 12 of 31

    e1618978 said:
    Did Tile not have enforceable patents?
    Implementations are protected, not ideas. If these are implemented differently it’s fine. 
    "Ideas are not protected" by patents? Let's word that more correctly. A patent can for (a) a process for doing things, excluding processes done by the human body, (b) a machine with moving parts or circuitry, (c) a manufactured article, (d) a new composition like a drug, and (e) a new and asexually reproduced plant. [In addition all patents must be new, must accomplish smoothing, and must be non-obvious.] Under item "a" yes indeed Tile can patent its processes for locating its Tile objects. Patents for  "processes" are very common. Processes are rightly described as "ideas," not "implementations."
    edited September 2
  • Reply 13 of 31
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 262member, editor
    Article mentions that the 'Apple Tag' would sound an alarm wen left behind? How would you hear that alarm from, say, thirty feet away (bluetooth max range?) if that 'tag' was locked inside an automobile with the windows up.

    Here's an idea! Make it possible for the tag to be placed on a wristband attached to a baby's wrist. Then, when the adult moves 10. 20, 30 feet away the alarm sounds from the tag AND on the person's iPhone to warn that the baby was left behind!!!!

    All the other features would still be available, but this 'red tagging' (a tag that sounds an alert on the phone, not just itself) could possibly solve (in some instances) a potentially deadly situation!
    The noise isn't for when you are far away, but when you are close. The way it would work is that your phone would tell you what direction the device is, showing the signal stronger as you approach. Or using AR to show you where it is, again not relying on audio. Once you get close, the noise can then go off so you can find it. Think a remote in the couch. You know it is in the couch, but not sure where. You get close to the couch then you hear the remote under the right cushion versus the left.
    anantksundaramlolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 31
    asdasdasdasd Posts: 5,323member
    I'd buy that for a dollar. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 31
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,976member
    An attachable tag on some devices, like a keyring, makes sense

    And when these tags get hacked? Having one on your keyring tells the car thieves exactly where in the house your car keys are located. Just to make make your car so much easier to steal then! Good one Apple.
    There are already car thieves intercepting the signals from your key fob and even going as far as triggering it into life. I put my keys into a metal tin when I'm at home so I don't need one of these but plenty of people just chuck them on a table. If a thief knows where the keys are then they can get in, grab the keys and drive off before you know it.


    Do you wear a tinfoil hat everyday too?
    edited September 2 lollivermwhitewatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 31
    An attachable tag on some devices, like a keyring, makes sense

    And when these tags get hacked? Having one on your keyring tells the car thieves exactly where in the house your car keys are located. Just to make make your car so much easier to steal then! Good one Apple.
    There are already car thieves intercepting the signals from your key fob and even going as far as triggering it into life. I put my keys into a metal tin when I'm at home so I don't need one of these but plenty of people just chuck them on a table. If a thief knows where the keys are then they can get in, grab the keys and drive off before you know it.


    Sounds a tad paranoid to me. Especially the metal tin part...

    I have little doubt the Apple’s implementation of it will address some of these concerns. 
    lollivermwhitewatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 31
    asdasd said:
    I'd buy that for a dollar. 
    I’d bet you won’t be buying any, then. 

    Yea. More for me. 
    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 31
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,011member

    e1618978 said:
    Did Tile not have enforceable patents?
    Implementations are protected, not ideas. If these are implemented differently it’s fine. 
    "Ideas are not protected" by patents? Let's word that more correctly. A patent can for (a) a process for doing things, excluding processes done by the human body, (b) a machine with moving parts or circuitry, (c) a manufactured article, (d) a new composition like a drug, and (e) a new and asexually reproduced plant. [In addition all patents must be new, must accomplish smoothing, and must be non-obvious.] Under item "a" yes indeed Tile can patent its processes for locating its Tile objects. Patents for  "processes" are very common. Processes are rightly described as "ideas," not "implementations."

    A process is an idea that describes how something can be implemented.

    I think what was meant by “idea” was a more generalized description... such as “tracking and locating programmable bluetooth signals”.
    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 31
    I was just telling someone this week that I wish Apple would make some products like these.  It's super useful functionality but with a company that respects privacy.  I'd also like them to do one of those auto diagnostics/GPS trackers you plug into the OBDII port on a car.  Great for new drivers but also for staying on top of engine codes and such when they pop up.  
    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 31
    robjnrobjn Posts: 235member
    “ more information has been gleaned thanks to another iOS 13 developer beta ”.

    Previous reporting said that the new information came from an “internal build”, not a beta for developers.
    watto_cobra
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