Tile asks the European Commission to protect it from Apple

From the Financial Times’ “Apple accused of competition abuse over tracking apps” ($) posted Friday:

“In the past twelve months, Apple has taken several steps to completely disadvantage Tile, including by making it more difficult for consumers to use our products and services,” said Tile’s general counsel Kirsten Daru in the letter seen by the Financial Times.

“This is particularly concerning because Apple’s actions come at the same time that Apple both launched a new FindMy app that competes even more directly with Tile and also began preparing for the launch of a competitive hardware product,” the letter added.

Apple devices come with its tracking app preloaded into the iOS operating system, allowing users to locate people and other Apple products. The company is reportedly also working on a piece of hardware that will be attached to items like TV remote controls or bikes to track them in a similar manner to Tile’s square plastic tags — though using new ultra-wideband chip technology which analysts believe will provide a superior level of precision.

My take: Tile has reason to fear.

See also: What Ming-Chi Kuo said re the ramp-up for Apple’s ‘AirTags’

12 Comments

  1. Gregg Thurman said:
    The company [Apple] is reportedly also working on a piece of hardware that …. analysts believe will provide a superior level of precision.

    Making a better mousetrap (using technology open to but not used by competitors) is not unfair competition.

    This complaint is nothing more than a death song.

    4
    May 29, 2020
  2. Jerry Doyle said:
    My, my, my! The big boy just shoved the little boy off the sidewalk. Walmart has come to town. Another previous thriving business “bites-the-dust.”

    0
    May 29, 2020
  3. Steven Philips said:
    Well, they definitely went to the right venue for success! (European Commission.)

    Gregg, I thought part of the issue was that the technology was NOT open. Was I misunderstanding the complaint?

    0
    May 29, 2020
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      Apple’s technology isn’t “Open”. Never has been.

      The technology I’m referring to is ultra wide band (UWB) Bluetooth. UWB makes for more accurate location finding. It doesn’t depend on GPS, but rather (the way Apple uses it) the collective of all iOS devices (owned or not) to triangulate Bluetooth signals. Accuracy is reduced to errors of inches, even though the lost device may be miles distant.

      The EU complaint will take a couple years to investigate and render a decision. Assuming Apple is found guilty and fined Apple’s implementation will be the standard among iOS users just because users seldom adopt 3rd party apps over pre-installed features. Even if Apple is required to allow 3rd party “Find” apps, by the time the order comes down it won’t matter. The user isn’t going to opt for an inferior product.

      Kind of heavy handed by Apple, and I personally would object if the 3rd party app was better. The thing is it isn’t, far from it.

      Besides, I think Apple has other plans for UWB that goes beyond finding lost iOS devices, TILE is a clever one trick pony taking on a multi-faceted iOS ecosystem Ultimately it is going to become a footnote in history, with or without the complaint. You know Googles Android is going to come up with a find feature that puts further pressure on TILE. I wouldn’t be surprised should Google buy TILE.

      3
      May 29, 2020
      • Bart Yee said:
        One would think that Tile would leverage Android’s numerical superiority in the marketplace and total installed devices of 2.5-2.7B units compared to Apple’s “paltry” 1.0-1.5B unit’s – although it’s estimated that close to 25% or 650M of those android units are quite old and can’t be updated to later Android versions at or above Android 6 which Tile supports.

        I mean they can’t get Android users to spend money for their product? When I checked the Tile app on Google Play, the most recent 25-30 review have been 85-90% poor, mostly on connection and poor app function, 28,000 total reviews.

        By contrast, Apple reviews are more positive but complain about nagware (to upgrade to premium) and wanting 24/7 location data to work, which may be the crux of Apple’s issue. 74K reviews. Takes IOS 12 or higher. In both cases the Tile hardware doesn’t seem all that reliable for some.

        0
        May 30, 2020
  4. Jerry Doyle said:
    I couldn’t access the FT, but found information from several sources.

    Tile says Apple is making it more difficult for its users while Apple is giving preferential treatment to its “Find My App,” the one reported Apple will use to power AirTags. Tile writes, “…. (Apple) has been selectively disabling features that allow for a seamless user experience” with its iOS release making it more difficult for Tile users to grant permission for the app to track location information in the background, a change Apple insists it made for privacy reasons, rather than anticompetitive ones.

    Tile also alleges Apple denied it equal placement on the App Store and terminated its agreement to sell Tile products in Apple’s physical retail stores.

    I apologize if you read the above information in the FT article. I could not access that article.

    PED’s comment (My take: Tile has reason to fear) and my previous comment are appropriate whether Apple has merit that its actions is more about privacy relative to abuses of location privacy data collected and mined by dozens of different apps, and all that seems to have been improved with iOS 13 changes. So, Apple is saying Tile’s business model is an unintended casualty of Apple’s privacy decision.

    As a Judge would say, “… The truth is somewhere in the middle.”

    2
    May 29, 2020
    • David Emery said:
      In my mind, a lot would depend on the specific actions Tile alleges. If, for example, Tile is complaining about Apple’s default settings for privacy, background updates, etc, my response would be “BFFFTTTTTTT!” Concerns about the Apple Store have more validity to me. But if you buy the hardware, you should expect to get the associated app from the store, so store positioning is substantially less of an issue for a software-only item. Getting dropped from the Apple store is an Apple business decision that I don’t see as legitimate for review by the courts (not without a LOT more compelling argument.) The strongest argument would be if Apple removed the Tile app because it now conflicts with an Apple product. I do have significant problems with Apple’s stance on apps that compete with its bundled apps, I’d strongly prefer Apple win on quality than on enforcement.

      0
      May 29, 2020
  5. John Butt said:
    I have used Tile and competing products. Tile failed for me because it required replacing the product every year when the battery ran out – it is always running.
    I used a competing product that had only one difference, the battery could be replaced.
    BUT, I have since given up on all of them, simply becasue they require your software to be working at all times, and constantly sent useless notifications to you when you don’t need them, the software was too clunky to manage the notifications to match my lifestyle – eg having a unit on both sets of car keys, means you get a notification you are leaving the second key behind, with two cars, that means 3 notifications

    I am keen to see Apple improve on this, because they can use background monitoring on the phone, to know where your units are, without draining your batteries on both devices. Plus they tend to be extremely more UX oriented to provide notification options that match your needs. (I know this is the reason most people invest in APPL)

    Yes, Tile is isolated because they cannot use quite such advanced background software, but I doubt it really makes the real difference, their skills lacked good UX.

    0
    May 29, 2020
  6. Bart Yee said:
    Ultimately I believe Apple will show that it is not required to open up its entire hardware to all apps, that its Find My app is an important part of iOS but allows for other competitors’ apps and products. People are smart enough to find apps and products regardless of where they are in the App Store, that’s what searches are for.

    Tile does have a first mover advantage and some IP but it certainly has no monopoly on the ideas about using some type of frequency network to triangulate locations, that has been around since radio and radar. What Apple does have is their custom chips and hardware that make that process naturally better using analogous but not similar techniques. If Apple can improve on existing tech, it likely has already patented it. The fact that it can be, easily or not, be integrated into the familiar Find My app which has been very functional for iOS users is no accident.

    Since Tile uses Bluetooth 4.0 nd GPS crowdsourced location data, they are literally dependent on all the smartphones out there with bluetooth and GPS turned on, using the Tile app, and being within 150-309 ft of the lost Tile. Without smartphones, both Apple and Android, they have nothing.

    If Apple develops a better product, as usual, it will succeed in the market place. It it succeeds reliably, it will disrupt said marketplace. Again.

    1
    May 30, 2020
    • Fred Stein said:
      Good point. Please note, the fine was $10M EU.

      0
      May 30, 2020

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