I'm so sorry Tile —

Bluetooth tags for Android’s 3 billion-strong tracking network are here

Third-party Bluetooth trackers plug in to Google's massive Find My Device Network.

Track all your stuff, with Android, in a totally not creepy way.
Enlarge / Track all your stuff, with Android, in a totally not creepy way.

After the release of Apple's AirTags, Google suddenly has interest in the Bluetooth tracker market. The company has already quietly rolled out what must be the world's largest Bluetooth tracking network via Android's 3 billion active devices, and now trackers are starting to plug in to that network. Google is taking the ecosystem approach and letting various companies plug in to the Android Bluetooth tracking network, which has the very derivative name of "Find My Device."

While these Bluetooth trackers are great for finding your lost car keys on a messy desk, they can also work as worldwide GPS trackers and locate items much farther away, even though they don't have GPS. The IDs of Bluetooth devices are public, so Tile started this whole idea of crowdsourced Bluetooth tracker location, called the "Tile Network." Every phone with the Tile app installed scans Bluetooth devices in the background and, using the phone GPS, uploads their last seen location to the cloud. This location data is only available to the person who owns the Tile, but every Tile user works to scan the environment and upload any Tiles the app can see.

Tile is a decently popular product, but it's nothing like the scale of our favorite smartphone duopoly, Apple and Google. Apple upended the market when it released AirTags and rolled out a bluetooth tracking network to most of the 1.8 billion Apple devices that are out there. While Tile could reliably work in busy places like airports, you'll probably never be more than a few hundred feet from an iPhone at any given time, making for a much more viable worldwide tracking network.

As usual, Google wants to do something similar, and in December 2022, Google brought crowdsourced locations to Android's "Find My Device" network. Previously, only you logged the last known location of your devices, but this update would enable anyone's phone to upload the location of your devices. Android is terrible at shipping OS updates, but this wasn't an OS update; it arrived via Google Play Services, which is just an app that arrives through the Play Store. This meant that overnight, 3 billion active Android phones received the crowdsourced tracking network update. The only problem is that it only tracked Android phones, not any Bluetooth tags.

Now, third-party Bluetooth trackers for Android's network are starting to arrive. The two companies that have announced products are Chipolo and Pebblebee, both of which seem to be cloning the Tile line of products. Both offer normal keychain tracker tags and slim credit card format trackers. The worst habits of Tile include making completely disposable products because the batteries can't be changed, but it looks like our clones have mostly avoided that. All of Pebblebee's Find My Device products are rechargeable, which is great, while the Chipolo keychain tracker has a replaceable CR2032 battery. Only the Chipolo wallet tracker is disposable (boo!).

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All these tags will show up in the Find My Device app, right alongside your Android phones, headphones, and whatever else you have that plugs in to the network. They also have a speaker, like normal, so you can make them ring when you're near them. Both sets of products are up for preorder now.

Both of these companies support the Google and Apple networks but have to make separate versions of the same product for each network, which is kind of ridiculous. Chipolo is really awkward and has three sets of products: one version that works with the company's in-house apps, one that works with Apple's Find My Network, and one that works with Google's Find My Device Network. We really can't consolidate this? Both Google and Apple have joined forces to try to combat malicious uses of these tracking devices with a joint standard, can't they just unify the hardware support, too? It's just Bluetooth!

Tile, which is being eaten alive by Big Tech, hasn't plugged in to either one of these networks yet, but Google's blog post says Tile will eventually join Find My Device. Google is supposedly planning its own Bluetooth tracker at some point in the future, too.

Channel Ars Technica