In our "Weekly Innovation" blog series, we explore an interesting idea, design or product that you may not have heard of yet. Previously we've featured the sink-urinal and a better travel neck pillow. (Do you have an innovation to share? Use this quick form.)
No more fumbling around looking for your wallet or keys before leaving the house, if something called Tile and its accompanying app work as promised.
Rolling out this winter, a waterproof, stamp-size adhesive square may help locate lost valuables. Users can attach it to key chains, place them in wallets or purses and even stick them on laptops or books. Using the free Tile iPhone app, users can pinpoint the location of the Tile and the lost item. If all else fails, users can activate a sound alarm on the Tile to help find it.
"It's a common problem that's affected everyone," says Tile co-creator Nick Evans. "When you're looking for your keys on your way out the door, you're already frustrated. Because of that, the product that you're building needs to be dead simple."
Over the years, Evans saw many companies come out with products similar to Tile, but none that had been used frequently.
"It became clear to us that people wanted this problem solved," Evan says, "but nobody had really nailed it."
After thinking about creating the product for over a year, Evans and fellow creator Mike Farley started the company in November 2012. And in late June, the duo launched the pre-order campaign for Tile. As of Aug. 7, Evans says consumers have pre-ordered more than 200,000 Tiles.
Power And Cost
The pre-order cost of Tile is around $19, but when the product launches, it will cost $25. The device has a battery life of one year, after which users must purchase a new Tile. (When it's time for a new one, you send your old one back to the company for recycling.) While this may not seem very intriguing to customers, Evans says this ensures users will continue to get the newest versions of the product without having to constantly replace the expensive custom coin cell battery.
"It's basically like we're replacing the battery for you," Evans says. "This is a service we're doing for you, and we're getting you the newest model."
For now, the Tile app is available only for Apple products compatible with Bluetooth 4.0, so anything after and including the iPhone 4S, the iPad 3rd generation and the iPod Touch 5th generation. Once more Android phones become compatible with Bluetooth 4.0, Evan says, Tile will release an Android app.
The device uses the low-energy Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology as a mini-GPS to locate lost items in a range of up to 150 feet. Evans says Tile doesn't use classic Bluetooth or GPS because of their short battery life, cost and size. For example, Apple's PocketFinder, which is a personal GPS locator, costs $149.95 and measures much larger.
Community Is Key
If the missing item falls outside that 150-foot zone or is stolen, users can mark it as lost, putting all other Tile apps on the lookout for the missing device. If any other Tile app comes near the lost Tile, it sends the location of the Tile to the original user without the other user knowing. You can download the app even if you don't have a Tile.
"With the network, this is what's actually making this a really revolutionary product," Evans says. "This is why we can compare it to a GPS-based unit."
While this is an intriguing and potentially groundbreaking tool, it is only helpful if enough people actually use the app.
"This is something we're building out. This is something that may happen. It may help you in near future," Evans says. "But as we move forward with more and more people buying this, the network will get stronger and the product will get better."
Tyler Greenawalt is an intern on NPR's Digital News Desk.