5 Ways Google’s Next Trackers Could Dethrone Apple’s AirTags

Tracking tags have been around for a while, but nothing could disrupt the market quite like the Apple AirTag. Although it is not a perfect product, what works in its favor is its ease of use if you have an iPhone. This seamless ecosystem integration has left many people looking for a Google AirTag alternative that “just works” with Android.

There has been a buzz lately that Google is working on its own tracking tags. While this is good news for Android users, we want Google to learn from the AirTag’s shortcomings and make its tracker more secure and versatile.


1 A better design, please

The Apple AirTag looks cute with its circular design, but the problem starts when you want to clip it to your valuables like keys. Since a lanyard port isn’t built into the device, in typical Apple fashion, you rely on accessories to attach it to your keychain or pet’s collar. If Google wants to make a better tracker than the AirTag, it can start by fixing this design flaw. Many people will appreciate a label that relies less on accessories for its core work.

An AirTag attached to a zipper.

When it comes to tracker battery, Google will likely have to stick with button cell battery to avoid getting flak like many Tile tags that are useless once their battery is depleted after a few years of use. Switching to a rechargeable battery for such a small device poses challenges, from managing heat to replacing the battery once its health deteriorates. In addition, the rechargeable mode will increase the price of the tracker, which will make Google’s offer much less competitive.

2 Robust and well-thought-out privacy features

Apple presents itself as the guardian of user privacy. Yet the AirTag has been a disaster on this front since its release, with several reported instances of harassment and theft. You know it’s bad when a few US states step in to propose location tracker legislation to curb non-consensual tracking. But neither these laws nor Apple’s mild warning can dissuade the authors 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 who’s near you, say in a cafe, other than a malicious tag to alert the victim if they’re being harassed , and at the same time, make its system foolproof to minimize false alarms. Since not all Android phones support the more reliable ultra-wideband, Google will have to rely on existing erratic Bluetooth tracking technology. And if the user hasn’t enabled Bluetooth on their Android phone, they’ll never know if a tracker has tracked them.

With its new Find My Device network, Google could let the Bluetooth antenna stay on in the background so it can continuously pick up any signal from those 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 require more advanced hardware tracking systems like ultra-wideband (more on that later).

Mate BW Keys

Source: Tile

3 Put it in Google TV remotes

The recent Apple TV 4K launched with an updated remote that charges via USB-C, but it still lacks AirTag-like precision tracking, which we think is a missed opportunity. TV remotes are perhaps the most misplaced items in our homes and are perfect candidates for tracking functions. We hope that the next Chromecast will come with a remote control integrating Google’s tracker. Google could also take a page from the book of AirPods Pro 2 and integrate a tracker into the Pixel Buds.

4 Make it an open standard

Why limit tracking technology to proprietary Google devices when it can be integrated into anything that isn’t stationary? A tracker can be built into a tablet stylus, smart bike, car, or any other device you need on a regular basis. Think of it as Chromecast built-in, but for trackers. Google may license it to other companies to allow your third-party devices and accessories to be part of your Find My Device network without each requiring a dangling tag. This increases the reach of the tracker beyond tracking keys and wallets.

Apple launched its own Find My Network accessory program a few years ago to allow other manufacturers to include the U1 chip in their products like bikes and bags, making them trackable like an AirTag. However, its adoption hasn’t accelerated since then, with only a handful of third-party products supporting the feature. Google can potentially make its tracking technology more ubiquitous by partnering with brands to integrate its tracker into more products of different shapes and sizes.

5 Push for the ubiquity of UWB

Most of the features described above won’t matter until more Android phones support ultra-wideband. UWB on recent iPhones with the U1 chip enables the AirTag’s most attractive feature: precision tracking.

But on this side of the fence, only a handful of high-end Android phones (like the Google Pixel 6 Pro, Pixel 7 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy S21+ and more) come with a UWB chip. You can expect the upcoming Galaxy S23 lineup to include UWB, but few brands want to add the band to their mid-range and budget phones.

Even though Google has a large network of active phones for its Find My Device network, rumor has it that tracker adoption may not pick up pace until UWB reaches most mid-range handsets. range. If your phone has UWB, you can use it for several things, like using your phone as a key for your car (supported) or your smart door lock. Even Bluetooth has come out with its own indoor precision positioning solution, and recent versions of Bluetooth can indicate the direction the signal is coming from. However, it still relies on the 2.4 GHz band which is prone to congestion and interference, which is not ideal for such applications.

Samsung Smart Tag

A Google tracking tag? Yes please!

Tile is perhaps the most recognized tracker manufacturer, while Samsung also has its own SmartTags, but neither brand has been able to take the market by storm the way Apple has. Despite questionable design choices, Apple delivered a functional and reasonably priced product. One of AirTag’s weak points is its incompatibility with Android, which Google can take advantage of.

Playing to Android’s strengths, the Google tracker might be the default choice for many Android users, much like the AirTag is for iPhone owners. While Google’s ecosystem benefits are only one piece of the puzzle, the sky is the limit if Google lets other OEMs integrate its tracker into their products. This is the kind of reality we keep our fingers crossed for.