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It’s kind of like the Clapper, only instead of clapping you use an app on your smartphone, and instead of it turning on and off your light, it turns on a chirp that lets you find whatever it is you’ve lost. Yes, it’s a new breed of tracking device that you affix to whatever you don’t want to lose – your keys, your wallet, even your cell phone itself (we’ll explain that in a moment). They even use crowd-sourcing so that other users can help you in the search for your lost item.
The TrackR from Phone Halo is already available, with the Tile tracking device not far behind. With the TrackR tracking device and app already available, we’ll focus on that first.
Here’s how it works: You affix a tiny tracking device to your key ring or wallet or such. Then, if you can’t find your keys (or wallet, etc.) you fire up the app, which helps you locate the lost item.
But what if it’s your phone that is lost? Then you grab your keys (or whatever has the tracking device), press a button, and the device will cause your phone to ring – even if your phone is set on silent.
Now, it’s important to point out that this is all based on Bluetooth technology, so that when we say “tracking”, we mean “you can find it”, not you can track it like you can track your child with this GPS watch or the FBI can track you with your GPS. So, you can’t put this on your child or spouse and learn what they are up to.
However, it does have this nifty additional feature, which they call the “proximity sensor”. You can set it up to alert you if your phone and the device become separated by more than a specified distance.
Using that same technology, the app will tell you how close or far away you are from the item you are trying to find (sort of like that childhood game of “warmer”, “cooler”).
Also, both apps have a crowd-sourcing feature, so that others can help you find your lost item as well. Explains TrackR, “If you lose an item or have an item stolen, the TrackR community is put on alert. When another user walks by your item, you will be updated with the item’s latest location,” and Tile says “With the Tile community, it’s like having the rest of the world help you find what you’re looking for.”
Reviews of the TrackR indicate that despite it requiring your Bluetooth to be on all the time, it does not appreciably impact battery life, which makes sense: the time that Bluetooth most drains your battery is when you are actually using it.
Speaking of batteries, each TrackR device takes CR2016 batteries (the ones that look somewhat like a nickel, that you can find at any supermarket or drug store for about $2/each), and batteries last between 1 and 2 years, depending on the device.
You can purchase a slim creditcard-sized device to go in your wallet, or a sticker or keyfob device (these latter are due to be released this month), directly from Phone Halo, or you can purchase a device that will both fit in your wallet or on a keyring through Amazon.
The app, of course, is free – search in the app store for TrackR (actually searching for Tile will also bring up TrackR while, as of the time of this writing, the Tile app itself is not yet available in the app store).
Tile works in the same way, the main differences being that a) you can’t replace the battery in the Tile devices, you have to get new ones every year, b) it is only for iOS devices (TrackR is available for both iOS and Android devices), and c) Tile is not available yet (their site says that it will be available “Winter 2013/2014”).