The brilliant and talented tech commentator Marques Brownlee (aka MKBHD) has published a video discussing Apple’s built-in advantage and how it relates to the accusations of anti-competitive behavior against Apple by Tile.
I really liked Marques’ piece, and I think he did an excellent job of laying out Apple’s historical pattern, but I feel it missed something big.
The problem for a company like Tile — to name one high-profile company that is not pleased by Apple’s entry into its market — is that location tags are inherently simple, and Apple’s Find My network is bigger and better than Tile’s device network. Everything about AirTags is better than Tile, if you’re an iOS user. So it goes. If the answer to the question “Would this add-on be better, and be useful to many users, if it were built into the system?” is yes, you should expect it to be built into the system sooner or later.
Long-term readers of this blog may remember I was an early crowdfunding backer of Tile and managed to get some interesting questions answered early on.
Here is the thing: I loved Tile’s trackers, but they have never lived up to the promise of the initial pitch video for a host of reasons:
- The trackers themselves weren’t loud enough.
If the missing item was in a coat or a bag, or anything muffling it, good luck finding it.
- The radio connections were awful.
I can’t tell you how often the app would fail to connect to a Tile tracker that was in the same room, let alone one that was on another floor.
- Proximity indication was basically non-existent.
In the initial video, Tile showed something akin to ‘signal bars’ to indicate proximity. Honestly, that concept was the thing that convinced me to buy it. Nothing even close to it ever materialized
I also hated having to replace trackers annually (or ‘Re-Tile,’ as the company calls it.) It was years before a model with a replaceable battery came along, and it was a more expensive option.
Just based on the core set of features and functionality, AirTags improve on Tile in every regard. And that’s before we talk about Apple’s pre-installed network or the company’s careful consideration of user privacy and safety.
The finding interface alone, with a clear indication of distance and direction, delivers on Tile’s initial promise far better than Tile ever did.
The only thing Tile really has going for it is that it was first to market. If Apple were to be restricted from entering a market like this, consumers would be worse off, not better. In this case, Apple’s innovations and advancements will push the whole market forward, and competitors will be sure to follow.
If Tile wants to make a case that Apple has acted anti-competitively, it will need to show how the company’s actions have harmed consumers, and honestly, I don’t see it.
Apple has built a better mousetrap, and while it has undoubtedly used its unique market position to do so, this is just good product strategy in action.