Apple AirTag attached to a bag
Apple

Tired of losing your keys? Worried about your backpack getting stolen? Adding a Bluetooth tracker to either item can greatly improve the chances of you finding it. But with the introduction of Apple’s AirTags, if you own an iPhone, there aren’t many reasons to buy a Tile tracker.

Apple Leapfrogs Tile

When the AirTag was announced, Tile controlled roughly 80% of the tracker market. Tile was the obvious company to buy from if you wanted to be reunited with a lost item as the market leader. As more people owned Tiles than other trackers, there was a higher chance of someone with the tracker’s app installed coming across your stuff.

But with Apple incorporating AirTags into its Find My network, there are now hundreds of millions of iPhones around the world that can help you find your items. With the chances of locating lost keys, wallets, and bags much higher with AirTags, you shouldn’t spend your money on a Tile unless you own an Android smartphone.

How Do AirTags and Tile Trackers Work?

Apple AirTag detection notification
Apple

Apple AirTags and Tile trackers use almost identical technology under the hood. Both utilize Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) to pair to your smartphone, allowing you to ping and locate the tracker in case it goes missing. With the press of an in-app button on your smartphone, the AirTag or Tile’s built-in speaker will start ringing.

The AirTag has an additional tracking feature enabled by the inclusion of Apple’s U1 chip. Using Ultra-Wideband technology, your iPhone (as long as it’s an iPhone 11 or newer) can use spatial awareness to precisely locate the AirTag. It will literally point you in the correct direction and count down the feet to your lost item.

Locating lost AirTags
Apple

Bluetooth trackers like the AirTag and Tile become invaluable when you’ve truly lost something, not just misplaced it around your home. In addition to detecting your own trackers, your phone anonymously pings other AirTags or Tiles over Bluetooth LE. By using your tracker, you become a member of a larger network.

If the item your AirTag or Tile is attached to goes missing, you can mark it as lost. The moment you do, you will be alerted to its location if someone comes across it. The other person won’t be alerted that they’re near your lost item, but you will be given GPS coordinates to help you navigate to the location that it was last pinged.

RELATED: What Is Ultra Wideband, and Why Is It In the iPhone 11?

AirTags Have a Larger Crowdsourced Network

A handful of Apple AirTags and available accessories
Apple

As mentioned, Bluetooth trackers are most valuable when an item has been lost or stolen. For the highest chance of retrieving it, you’ll want the highest number of people “looking” for it. And this is why—if you own an iPhone—you should buy AirTags over a Tile.

According to Tile, it has sold over 30 million trackers worldwide. Even if this statistic meant that 30 million customers had purchased at least one Tile (and still have the app installed on their phone), it pales compared to the roughly 113 million iPhone owners in the U.S. and 900 million worldwide.

While Tile requires you to install the Tile app to track your accessories (and help others locate their lost belongings), Apple utilizes its built-in Find My app. Basically, without the need to install or set anything up, every iPhone connected to the internet with location services turned on can detect AirTags and report their locations if they’ve been marked as lost.

If you’re worried about your privacy, Apple ensures any location sharing is encrypted and saved anonymously. If your iPhone were to detect someone else’s missing AirTag, the tracker’s location is sent to iCloud using end-to-end encryption and delivered to the owner without any of your personal information.

RELATED: What Is End-to-End Encryption, and Why Does It Matter?

Why You Should Buy a Tile Over an AirTag

Tile family of products vs Apple AirTag
(Products not shown to scale) Tile, Apple

Tile has one thing that Apple doesn’t: variety. While there is only a single AirTag as of the product’s release in April 2021, there are four different Tile options (including the Pro, Mate, Slim, and Sticker). While cases and accessories can adapt the AirTag to work with whatever you want to track, Tile’s various form factors allow you to choose which size and shape fits your needs.

The second reason why you might want a Tile is that you use an Android phone. The AirTag’s greatest “flaw” is that it’s locked to the Apple ecosystem. Unlike Tile, which works across platforms, AirTags are only compatible with iPhones. If you switch to Android from an iPhone, you can’t take it with you.

And lastly, if you pay for Tile’s premium subscription, you can share trackers with others. If you want everyone in your home to be able to find the lost TV remote, this feature might be important.

Best Tracker for Android

Tile Essentials

Tiles come in multiple sizes and form factors. Grab one that best fits your needs.

Access to First- and Third-Party Accessories

Nomad AirTag Accessories
Nomad

AirTags and Tile trackers are accessories on their own as they are normally thrown in a bag or attached to your keys. Unlike Tiles that come in different sizes and form factors, the AirTag is one-size-fits-all. To adapt it to fit your needs, there are dozens of first- and third-party accessories.

One example of third-party accessories for an AirTag is Nomad’s glasses strap and keychain (as seen above). Both are made out of high-quality materials and bring extra functionality to your AirTag.

There are unofficial accessories for Tiles, but one look at their Amazon listings will give you a good idea of the quality of the products. Being a part of Apple’s partner program typically means the accessory will have a higher price tag, but at least you know it’ll work as desired.

Quality AirTag Accessories

Nomad Glasses Strap and Keychain

The glasses strap doubles as a way to keep your sunglasses around your neck while also trackable if lost. The KeyChain is similar to Apple’s but wrapped in premium leather.

Own an iPhone? Just Get an AirTag

In line with Apple’s “it just works” mantra, the AirTag is the best Bluetooth tracker for iPhone owners. Between the ease of use that’s comparable to setting up AirPods and the fact that there are hundreds of millions of iPhones capable of finding your lost items, AirTags are simply a better buy than Tile.

Because Apple has opened the Find My Network Accessory Program to third-party device makers, it’s theoretically possible that Tile could one day compete head-to-head with AirTags (including the use of Apple’s Ultra-Wideband tech). Tile CEO, CJ Prober, is worried that Apple will play unfair (as mentioned in a statement to Congress), so it’s not clear if the two companies will collaborate in the future.

Best Tracker for iPhone Owners

Apple AirTag

If you're sold on the idea of an AirTag, Apple is selling them for $29 a piece or $99 for four.

Justin Duino Justin Duino
Justin Duino is the Managing Editor at How-To Geek. He has spent the last decade writing about Android, smartphones, and other mobile technology. In addition to his written work, he has also been a regular guest commentator on CBS News and BBC World News and Radio to discuss current events in the technology industry.
Read Full Bio »

The above article may contain affiliate links, which help support How-To Geek.