In 2013, a crowdfunded project known as the Tile became a smash hit, racking up over $2,500,000 in funding from nearly 50,000 backers. The secret to its success? Simple: The Tile promised to help users locate any object attached to the coin-sized Bluetooth-connected tag priced at $20.
I signed on as a backer mostly out of curiosity. After all, compared to some crowdfunded tech projects like the Pebble, the 3Doodler or the Micro 3D printer, the $20 Tile seemed like a no-brainer.
So I committed my cash and then, just like thousands of others, I began a very long wait for my Tile to arrive. I had almost given up hope of ever seeing a Tile in the flesh when finally — nearly a year after having backed the project — my Tile showed up last week.
“So far we’ve delivered to over 50,000 people,” Nick Evans, Tile’s co-founder and CEO said in an interview with VentureBeat.
I guess I was lucky to be amongst the first third of buyers. Evans sympathizes with those who feel the wait has been too long, “I’ve pre-ordered items too and there can be a lot of frustration, like, where is this thing? We’re working as hard as we can to get everyone’s Tiles to them.”
My neighbor ordered a Tile at the same time I did and his showed up the same day as mine. “It’s a lot bigger than I expected,” he said. It’s true: The Tile looks and feels a lot larger in real life than it did in the photos and videos that Tile posted to its website during the funding period.
Wondering why both my neighbor and I (and other reviewers) had the same reaction, I checked one of the ads that was — and is still — used to promote the Tile. Sure enough, the image Tile chose does an excellent job of masking the Tile’s thickness. The ad makes it appear as though the Tile is barely thicker than a coin — or a key for that matter.
The actual dimensions are 37mm x 37mm x 5.3 mm. The effect is that, when attached to a keychain, the Tile feels more like the largest object on your ring, not just another key.
Evans claims there was no attempt to mislead customers and that the Tile used in these promotional images is the same size, shape and thickness as the units that have been shipped: “That’s the actual size. We of course wanted to advertise the correct size […] we didn’t want people to be disappointed,” he says.
How it works
Getting a Tile set up is very easy. After you download the free Tile app (iOS only, for now), enable Bluetooth and location services, and register for a free Tile account, the app prompts you to add your first Tile.
To do so, simply press and hold on the “e” portion of the “tile” word on the Tile until the Tile emits a little tune and hold the Tile close to your iOS device when prompted to do so. Your Tile is now paired. You can add up to 8 Tiles per account.
The Tile app will always show you the last place it “saw” (i.e., where it was in direct Bluetooth contact with) your Tile and how long ago it saw it.
A killer community
I gave my Tile to my neighbor to take with him to work. My Tile app was able to locate it perfectly.
Above: I gave my Tile to my neighbor to take with him to work. My Tile app was able to locate it perfectly.
So what happens when your Tile can’t be located by going back to the last place your app saw it?
Tile calls it the “Community Find” feature. Turns out, every person who keeps the Tile app open on their iOS device becomes a node in a much larger Tile network.
The other drawback to the Tile is its non-user-replaceable battery. Because Tiles are sealed, which gives them a splash-proof exterior, there’s no way to access or replace any of its innards, including the battery. Tiles are only good for one year, after which Tile will get in touch to facilitate the return of your now-dead Tile and presumably give you the option to re-up for another year for another $20.
This works out to about $1.66 per month per object tracked, on an indefinite basis. Is it worth it? I guess it depends on what you’re tracking and how often you think you might misplace it.
The $20 Tile is a device that does exactly what it claims: It helps you locate misplaced objects using your smartphone in a way that is easy and intuitive.
For most people, even though the Tile is only effective for a year, it offers a convenient, expandable and soon — according to Evans — shareable way to track your most commonly lost articles.