Tile, The Lost-Item Tracker With Millions In Crowdfunding, Was Worth The Wait

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The first thing you’ll notice about Tile, the crowdfunded lost-item finder that attaches to bags, keys, bikes and more, is that it’s big. I mean, I know the company provided the device’s specs beforehand, but it’s still a surprise to see this large white square — bigger than a Wheat Thin and slightly smaller than a matchbook – sitting there in the black foam padding.

The second thing you’ll notice, during setup, is that it’s musical.

Yes, Tile actually plays a little song for you when you’re connecting it with your phone, and later, when it confirms it was successfully activated.

What’s Tile? For those who need a reminder, Tile was a breakout, viral success story, demonstrating crowdfunding’s potential. The company raised $2.6 million via its Selfstarter campaign – far more than the $20,000 it was looking to initially raise, to top off the earlier $200,000 from Silicon Valley accelerator Tandem Capital.

Demand Caused Delays

But the buzz around Tile has been both a blessing and a curse. Instead of being able to scale slowly, the company had more orders than it was prepared to handle.

“It really changed the dynamics of manufacturing this in a really good way. However, one of the bad things it did was add delays,” Tile CEO Nick Evans says. “We had to go and find a different manufacturer — our current manufacturer couldn’t produce enough.”

And, he adds, “we needed to make sure if we were shipping that many units, that they’re really, really going to work.”

Nearly a year after Tile achieved its multi-million-dollar crowdfunding raise, shipments finally began getting off the ground, and today the company is still working to get the device into the hands of those who’ve paid.

That means some Tile customers won’t just be asking themselves if Tile was worth the money (one Tile is $19.95 on preorder), they’ll be asking themselves if it was worth the wait.

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Some percentage (a vocal minority, the company would say) are not happy, as you can tell by the company’s Facebook page. “WHERE’S MY ORDER?? WHEN WILL I GET MINE??” shouts one customer in the comments. Complains another: “From those I know who are ‘backers’ who ordered a year ago, THEY have NOT received any such emails about THEIR orders. I am not making this up.”

Some even want their money back: “You guys keep pushing the date out further.. Now it’s not until next year.. How do I get a refund?”

And so it continues.

Evans admits that there may have been some problems with people receiving the backer emails, but he chalks this up to them having bought Tile under a different email account than the one they currently use, in some cases. To make certain everyone knew what was going on, the company launched an official blog four months ago.

And last week, a shipment schedule was finally posted. From the looks of it, Tile will be working through its pre-orders until September 2014.

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What that means for those buying from the website today is that their Tiles won’t ship until late September to early October, says Evans. After that point, Tiles will ship out more quickly, but how quickly may remain to be seen.

So how many Tiles has the company sold so far? On that point, the CEO declines to comment. However, he would say that there are 150,000 customers and most are ordering a four-pack as opposed to a single Tile.

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Tile Features

In terms of the final product, which apparently I’m fortunate to have, it’s fair to say it was worth the $20, at least.

Whether it’s worth the wait may be a more subjective claim, but I’d have to say it was. The product itself, though larger than some others, is attractive and slim. The app is smartly designed and well-thought-out, with numerous subtle touches.

One of Tile’s more heavily touted features — “Community Find” — has fortunately made it into production. This feature lets you find your Tile by leveraging the network of Tile users running the app on their phone. For this to work, Tile users only have to download the app and launch it once. The app will take a bit of your battery, though — less than 10 percent, says Evans, and they’re working to bring that down.

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Meanwhile, a sharing feature, which will let you explicitly share your Tile device with family and friends, is set to arrive in version 1.1 of the app, which will be arriving “soon,” we’re told. You’ll also “soon” be able to mark a Tile in the app as “lost,” allowing you to get a push notification when it’s found by another Tile community member.

No User-Replaceable Battery. But Maybe A Subscription-Based Replacement Service!

Tile is also unique in the space for not having a user-replaceable battery - something that was a very deliberate decision on the company’s part. “I grew up with four sisters, and when the remote control was out of batteries, the remote control was broken. There was no way they were going to replace those batteries,” he says. “If I wasn’t hanging around and wanted to replace them, that remote control was ‘end-of-life,’ it’s done.”

The overall point here is that replacing batteries is a hassle (not that girls can’t do it, let’s be clear). And that’s especially true for coin cell batteries, which aren’t just lying around the house.

What would be better is to buy a new Tile, the company believes – and by the time you’re ready to do so, it will be a newer, better, smaller and, yes, even more colorful Tile, if you choose. (Colored Tiles are coming next year.) The company is even considering turning Tile into a subscription-based service, where reordering is automatic.

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Getting Started With Tile

As for the Tile you can use today, it’s easy to get going. The app is well-designed with clear and simple steps that help you connect it to your iOS device, name it, assign the appropriate permissions in iOS, and more.

The app first has you register for a Tile account, and as an added precaution, it has you verify your email, which though it slows you down a bit, is an important step in terms of account security. Then you add the Tile to your app by pressing on the lowercase “e” in “Tile” printed on the front of the device.

And this is when Tile sings.

The device offers up a little melody to let you know it’s ready. The company actually contracted an L.A.-based composer to write the song Tile plays, and it’s one of the many small, but delightful additions that improve the experience of using this app versus its now-numerous competitors, including DuetTrackRStickNFindLapa, XY, and others.

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Next, you place the Tile directly on your iPhone’s screen (as you do with the Misfit Shine, for example) and it makes the connection.

You can then name your Tile (e.g. “Keys,” “Wallet,” “Purse,” “Luggage,” etc.) and assign a photo – which is helpful if you bought a pack of Tiles and want an easy way to identify it in a longer list. It also makes that list look nice, aesthetically speaking, as each tracked item now has a rounded photo thumbnail next to it.

When you’re done, you tap on “Activate” and when the process is complete, you’ll hear the Tile play a tune again.

You can then attach Tile to your keychain, bag, bike or anywhere else you want, thanks to the included sticker.

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Using Tile

After your Tile or Tiles are set up, you can launch the app at any time to see them in a list view with their location noted underneath, or you can switch over to the map view to see them plotted there instead. If the Tile is within Bluetooth range, you’ll see a green circle around your item. And if it’s out of range, that circle is gray.

When it comes to actually finding a missing item with a Tile attached, it’s just a two-tap process. You tap the Tile in the list and then tap “Find.” The Tile will again play a tune, allowing you to find it if nearby. This is handy for finding keys under a sofa cushion, an iPad mini that slid under the car seat, or a misplaced wallet.

 

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As an added bonus, a somewhat hidden proximity feature will actually show you how close you are to that missing item. In the Tile “Detail View” (the screen where you tap the “Find” button) you tap on the Tile image itself and it flips around, showing you a signal strength indicator instead of a solid, green ring.

Tile’s range is anywhere from 50 to 150 feet, the company says. My Tile got well over 50, but fell short of 150. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

IMG_9915If your item is out of Bluetooth range, Tile will offer its last known location thanks to the above-mentioned “Community Find” feature.

What happens next when a missing item is tracked down is sort of up to you. Like “Find My iPhone,” if you believe the item has been stolen, it may be better to get the police involved. But Tile’s size (and its attention) may lead to savvier criminals who know to rip these things off of snagged laptops, bikes or bags. You may want to be smart about how visibly the Tile is positioned, in that case.

More Funding?

As for Tile the company, they’re now an 11-person team based in San Mateo. And word has it that those millions in crowdfunding may be only the start. The company may have some additional funding news in the near future, we hear.