Tile, which dominated the Bluetooth tracker market for years, is reportedly being acquired by family location-sharing service Life360 in a deal valued at $US205 (A$284) million.
The acquisition comes as Tile faces increasing competition from some of the largest tech companies, including Apple, Samsung, Amazon, and Google.
Those alternatives, led by Apple’s AirTag, owe their debt to Tile, whose comparatively modest origins stem from a successful crowdfunding campaign back in 2013. Within a few years, Tile’s small Bluetooth-enabled tracking devices were being sold by major retailers and marketed as a way to protect valuables, track pets, and prevent forgetful folks from wasting time searching for lost items.
Tile expanded its line of tracking products over the years and introduced a $US30 (A$41.52)-per-year subscription service called Tile Premium, which gives users battery replacements and smart alerts, among other advanced features. In addition to its standalone trackers, Tile has integrated its technology into more than 1 million third-party devices, from phones and laptops to dog collars.
As much success as Tile has enjoyed over the years, increasing competition from tech giants like Apple and Samsung has shaken up the space. Samsung arrived on the scene first with its Galaxy SmartTag, but it was Apple and its $US29 (A$40) AirTag that got people tracking. AirTags use Bluetooth tracking similar to Tile but add more precise location services by tapping the iPhone’s ultra-wideband chip.
Another advantage Apple enjoys over its competitors is a vast Find My network. When one of the nearly 1 billion devices connected to Find My comes close to a misplaced AirTag, the service relays its last address to the appropriate AirTag owner. Tile relies on a similar network, but its 35 million or so users pale in comparison to the 1 billion people helping track down lost AirTags.
While location information sent to AirTag owners is anonymous and encrypted, these tiny tracking devices have put Apple in hot water for potentially enabling abusers to track others without their consent. There are measures in place to prevent unwanted tracking, but in our testing, we found they don’t do enough to alert users when a tag is unknowingly slipped into a bag, pocket, or car.
Tile’s buyer, Life360, is a family safety app with a subscription service that lets family members track one another’s movements and adds crash detection, online privacy monitoring, and emergency assistance. Created after Hurricane Katrina, Life360 is used by 31 million people, according to the company.
By purchasing Tile, Life360 will welcome new subscribers, increasing its total paid base to 1.6 million. Tile isn’t alone in helping grow Life360; the company began its buying spree by purchasing Jiobit, which makes cellular trackers for pets and kids. Life360 is buying up brands to expand into more categories so people can use its service to track or find just about anything.
One can’t help but wonder the impact Apple made after introducing its popular AirTag tracker earlier this year. While Apple has planted a flag on what was once Tile territory, Life360 said it welcomes the competition. Chris Hulls, the co-founder and CEO of Life360, immediately acknowledged the elephant in the room, writing in a blog post, “…we believe the launch of the Apple AirTags is the tipping point where all the devices you care about will become location-enabled.”
He goes on to compare the emergence of AirTags to the release of AirPods, which popularised truly wireless earbuds years after the first products arrived on the scene.
“From our own experience pioneering the location sharing category (we were the first ever location sharing app on the market), we saw how the launch of Find My Friends brought our category mainstream — we had triple digit growth rates after Apple entered our space,” Hulls wrote.
The Tile acquisition is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2022. Tile will continue to operate independently with the same team and under the same brand.