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Opinion: Skullcandy’s Tile collaboration reveals the one tracking feature Apple’s AirPods need

Over the past four years, the word ‘AirPods’ has become synonymous with true wireless technology. In this time, Apple has continuously added new features, from the release of a wireless charging case to the introduction of ANC. One of the most practical upgrades was the addition of built-in location software – but Skullcandy and Tile do it better. 

Apple introduced AirPods support to its Find My app with iOS 10.3 in 2017. Find My is Apple’s proprietary tracking software designed to help users locate lost, stolen and misplaced devices. The app allows you to see your AirPods on a map, play a sound to alert you to their whereabouts and, if your headphones are offline, display the time and location they were last connected.

Skullcandy unveiled its latest range of headphones this week. While the audio brand has previously released headphones in collaboration with Tile, the Push Ultra, Indy Evo, Indy Fuel and Sesh Evo mark the first true wireless earbuds in Skullcandy’s catalogue to be kitted with Tile’s device tracking technology.

The Tile app has some skills in common with Apple’s Find My, even if the tech is different. For starters, both Tile and Find My will display the earbuds last known location on a map. Both trackers will also ring your headphones when you can see they’re in your room, but can’t quite pinpoint which pile of clothes they’re buried beneath. Where the two apps differ lies in how they deal with lost and missing devices.

Read our review of Apple AirPods

For most devices, Apple has a ‘Mark as lost’ feature. Mark as lost allows users to lock the device, display contact information on screen, disable alerts and Apple Pay and receive notifications for any location changes on the map. While this feature – for obvious reasons – cannot be applied to the AirPods, it does reveal a lot about Apple’s approach to stolen devices. Apple doesn’t seem to trust other users – Skullcandy and Tile do.

In the hands of Tile, Skullcandy harnesses the power of community. ‘Notify When Found’ puts the fate of your earbuds in the hands of other Tile users. If you can’t find your earbuds and they aren’t showing up on the map, the ‘Notify When Found’ button allows you not only to mark them as lost, but to enlist the help of your local community to locate them.

The feature leverages the power of Community Find, which Tile CEO CJ Prober has called “Tile’s global finding network”. The moment someone with the Tile app steps in range of your missing earbud, you’ll receive an automatic email and in-app notification with information on when and where to recover the device. Not only that, but you can anonymously thank the person who spotted the stray headphone – a far cry from Apple’s lock and silence technique.

Related: New Tile Slim and Tile Sticker headline 2019 range as Apple threat looms

There are other benefits to using Tile over Apple’s Find My. One major perk is that Tile allows you to keep track of none-Apple products – such as your keys or your bag – on the same map as your MacBook. Apple has supposedly already begun remedying this oversight with AirTag attachable trackers in development.

Apple has been moving in on Tile’s territory this year and Community Find is a tool that begs to be imitated. While we love Skullcandy’s sub-£100 prices, we can’t help but want to see Tile’s wholesome, community-powered, headphone spotting tool working inside a pair of AirPods. Especially as every time we think about losing just one earbud we die a little inside.

As for whether Apple would look to a rival for headphone tracking tips, Tile doesn’t think it’s so unlikely.

After all, “How often does Apple literally copy a startup’s product? And say ‘Oh, us too.’

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