Tile bashes Apple’s new AirTag as unfair competition

Now that Apple’s lost item finder AirTag has officially been introduced, competitor Tile is going on record ahead of its testimony in front of Congress tomorrow about how it perceives Apple’s latest product. The company says it will be asking Congress on Wednesday to take a closer look into Apple’s business practices, and specifically its entry in this lost item tracking category.

Tile has been a strong Apple critic since it learned that Apple would soon launch its own device to take on Tile’s leading lost item finder beacons. Tile had successfully carved out a market for its Bluetooth-powered keychain dongles that allow consumers to find the lost items Tile attaches to — like purses, luggage, keys, bikes, wallets and more. It also introduced the idea of a “finding network,” where everyone with the Tile app installed on their phone could help to locate someone else’s Tile, in the case that a lost item was out of Bluetooth range of its owner.

With AirTag, Apple is reproducing these capabilities, while also adding support for more precise ultra-wideband technology, integrating AirTag into its first-party “Find My” app, and leveraging its larger iPhone install base to help find missing items. This presents significant competition to Tile, which is not only expected to face off with Apple’s AirTag across Apple’s own devices, but also share a portion of its subscription revenues from in-app purchases with Apple thanks to App Store policies.

Ahead of AirTag’s launch, Apple moved to head off any sort of anti-competitive claims by opening up access to its “Find My” app to third parties. It even partnered with a Tile competitor, the Chipolo ONE Spot, to serve as proof that it’s giving other lost item finders that compete with AirTag equal footing on its iPhone platform. But Tile’s argument to date has been that it doesn’t want to give up the direct relationship it has with customers via its own iOS app to instead support Apple’s “Find My” users, and that Apple’s mere decision to enter this market with its own item-locating tracker will allow it to easily dominate because of its first-party advantage and ecosystem power.

Tile had previously testified before Congress about Apple’s alleged anti-competitive behavior back in 2020 and will now do so again on Wednesday alongside other Apple critics, including Match and Spotify.

The companies are arguing against Apple’s in-app commissions, the so-called “Apple tax,” which Apple recently reduced for smaller businesses. Many larger companies do not want to pay Apple at all — they want to process their own payments directly to retain all the revenue collected. They also want a more direct relationship with customers, not one where Apple is the middleman. And in some cases like Tile and Spotify, the companies don’t feel it’s fair that they’re paying money to Apple when Apple directly competes with their business through its own first-party apps.

In addition, Tile intended to compete with AirTag via its own ultra-wideband powered device, announced earlier this year. But it has yet to receive access to Apple’s U1 chip to make such a device work, we understand  (Apple has released a draft specification for chipset manufacturers would come later this Spring.)

In a statement released today following Apple’s event, Tile CEO CJ Prober again publicly criticized Apple’s move into a market Tile created, saying:

Our mission is to solve the everyday pain point of finding lost and misplaced things and we are flattered to see Apple, one of the most valuable companies in the world, enter and validate the category Tile pioneered.

The reason so many people turn to Tile to locate their lost or misplaced items is because of the differentiated value we offer our consumers. In addition to providing an industry leading set of features via our app that works with iOS and Android devices, our service is seamlessly integrated with all major voice assistants, including Alexa and Google. And with form factors for every use case and many different styles at affordable prices, there is a Tile for everyone.

Tile has also successfully partnered with top brands like HP, Intel, Skullcandy and fitbit to enable our finding technology in mass market consumer categories like laptops, earbuds and wearables. With over 30 partners, we look forward to extending the benefits of Tile to millions of customers and enabling an experience that helps you keep track of all your important belongings.

We welcome competition, as long as it is fair competition. Unfortunately, given Apple’s well-documented history of using its platform advantage to unfairly limit competition for its products, we’re skeptical. And given our prior history with Apple, we think it is entirely appropriate for Congress to take a closer look at Apple’s business practices specific to its entry into this category. We welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues further in front of Congress tomorrow.

Apple, in response, points out that its Find My network pre-dates Tile’s founding, and that Tile is able to use Find My if it chooses. It also notes Tile has 90% market share and Apple will need to sell a lot of AirTags to catch up with that lead.

Apple’s statement reads, as follows:

We have worked from the very beginning of iPhone to help protect the privacy of users’ location data, giving them transparency and control over how all apps may access and share their location. Apple created Find My over a decade ago to help users locate and manage lost devices in a private and secure way. Since then, we have expanded Find My to help users keep tabs on the other important things in their life — from sharing location with friends and family members, to locating third-party products like Van Moof bikes and Chipolo item finders. We have always embraced competition as the best way to drive great experiences for our customers, and we have worked hard to build a platform in iOS that enables third-party developers to thrive.