Tracker tags have been around for a while, but nothing could disrupt the market like the Apple AirTag. Even though it isn’t a perfect product, what works in its favor is its ease of use if you own an iPhone. This seamless ecosystem integration left many wanting an AirTag alternative from Google that “just works” with Android.
There’s been a buzz lately that Google is working on its own tracker tags. While this is good news for Android users, we want Google to learn from the AirTag’s shortcomings and make its tracker safer and more versatile.
1 A better design, please
The Apple AirTag looks cute with its circular design, but the problem starts when you want to hook it up to your valuables like keys. Since a lanyard port isn’t built into the device, in typical Apple fashion, you’ll rely on accessories to attach it to your keychain or your pet’s collar. If Google wants to make a better tracker than the AirTag, it can start by fixing this screw-up design. Many people will appreciate a tag that depends less on accessories for its basic job.
As for the tracker’s battery, Google will likely have to stick to the coin cell to avoid getting flak like many Tile tags that are useless once their battery runs out after a couple of years of use. Switching to a rechargeable battery for such a tiny device poses challenges, ranging from heat management to battery replacement once its health deteriorates. Plus, going the rechargeable way will shoot up the tracker’s price, making Google’s offering far less competitive.
two Robust and well-considered privacy features
Apple presents itself as the custodian of user privacy. Still, the AirTag has been a disaster on that front ever since it came out, with several reported instances of stalking and theft. You know it’s bad when a few US states step in to propose legislation for location trackers to curb non-consensual tracking. But neither such laws nor Apple’s meek warning can deter perpetrators from doing what they want to do.
Google could develop an improved logic system that doesn’t take as long as the AirTag to tell a tracker that is near you, say in a cafe, apart from a rogue tag to alert the victim if they are being stalked, and at the same time, make its system fool-proof to minimize false alarms. Considering not all Android phones support the more reliable ultrawideband, Google will have to depend on the existing, erratic Bluetooth tracking tech. And if the user doesn’t have Bluetooth enabled on their Android phone, they’ll never know if a tracker has been following them.
With its new Find My Device network, Google could let the Bluetooth antenna stay on in the background so that it can continuously pick up any signal from such beacons, much like what Apple has been doing with iPhones for years. It would take more than a simple software tweak to make the Google tracker more reliable. While billions of Android phones are active right now, most need more advanced hardware tracking systems like ultrawideband (more on that later).
3 Put it inside Google TV remotes
The recent Apple TV 4K launched with a refreshed remote that charges over USB-C, but it still doesn’t get AirTag-like precision tracking built-in, which we think is a missed opportunity. TV remotes are perhaps the most misplaced items in our homes and make the perfect candidates for tracking features. We hope the next Chromecast comes with a remote controller that has Google’s tracker built in. Google could also take a page from AirPods Pro 2’s book and bake a tracker into the Pixel Buds.
4 Make it an open standard
Why limit the tracking tech to Google’s first-party devices when it can be put inside about anything that’s nonstationary? A tracker could be built into a tablet stylus, smart bike, car, or any device you regularly need. Think of it as Chromecast built-in, but for trackers. Google can license it to other companies to allow your third-party devices and accessories to be a part of your Find My Device network without each of them needing a dangling tag. This increases the tracker’s scope beyond tracking keys and wallets.
Apple started its own Find My Network Accessory program a couple of years back to allow other manufacturers to include the U1 chip inside their products like bikes and bags, making them trackable like an AirTag. However, its adoption hasn’t picked up pace since then, with only a handful of third-party products supporting the feature. Google can potentially make its tracking tech more ubiquitous by partnering with brands to bake its tracker into more products of different shapes and sizes.
5 Push for UWB ubiquity
Most of the features discussed above won’t matter until more Android phones support ultrawideband. UWB on recent iPhones with the U1 chip enables the AirTag’s most enticing feature: precision tracking.
But on this side of the fence, only a handful of top-end Android phones (like the Google Pixel 6 Pro, Pixel 7 Pro, and the Samsung Galaxy S21+ and up) come with a UWB chip. You can expect the upcoming Galaxy S23 lineup to include UWB, but not many brands are keen on adding the band to their mid-range and budget phones.
Even though Google has an extensive network of active phones for its Find My Device network, rumor is tracker’s adoption cannot pick up the pace until UWB makes its way to most mid-range handsets. If your phone has UWB, you can use it for several things, like using your phone as the key for your (supported) car or your smart door lock. Even Bluetooth came out with its own indoor precision positioning solution, and recent Bluetooth versions can tell the direction the signal is coming from. However, it still relies on the 2.4GHz band that is prone to congestion and interference, which isn’t ideal for such applications.
A tracker tag from Google? Yes, please!
Tile is perhaps the most recognized tracker maker, while Samsung also has its own SmartTags, but neither brand could take the market by storm as Apple did. Despite habitually making questionable design choices, Apple delivered a functional and reasonably priced product. One of AirTag’s weakest points is its incompatibility with Android, which Google can take advantage of.
Playing on Android’s strengths, the Google tracker could be the default choice for many Android users, just like the AirTag is for iPhone owners. While Google’s ecosystem advantages are only one piece of the puzzle, the sky’s the limit if Google lets other OEMs bake its tracker into their products. That’s the kind of reality we have our fingers crossed for.