The only thing missing from Tile, the Bluetooth tracking gadget, is more users (review)

The only thing missing from Tile, the Bluetooth tracking gadget, is more users (review)

In 2013, a crowdfunded project known as the Tile became a smash hit, racking up over $2,500,000 in funding from nearly 50,000 backers. The secret to its success? Simple: The Tile promised to help users locate any object attached to the coin-sized Bluetooth-connected tag priced at $20.

I signed on as a backer mostly out of curiosity. After all, compared to some crowdfunded tech projects like the Pebble, the 3Doodler or the Micro 3D printer, the $20 Tile seemed like a no-brainer.

So I committed my cash and then, just like thousands of others, I began a very long wait for my Tile to arrive. I had almost given up hope of ever seeing a Tile in the flesh when finally — nearly a year after having backed the project — my Tile showed up last week.

“So far we’ve delivered to over 50,000 people,” Nick Evans, Tile’s co-founder and CEO said in an interview with VentureBeat.

I guess I was lucky to be amongst the first third of buyers. Evans sympathizes with those who feel the wait has been too long, “I’ve pre-ordered items too and there can be a lot of frustration, like, where is this thing? We’re working as hard as we can to get everyone’s Tiles to them.”

The Tile, seen beside a set of typical house keys.

First impressions

My neighbor ordered a Tile at the same time I did and his showed up the same day as mine. “It’s a lot bigger than I expected,” he said. It’s true: The Tile looks and feels a lot larger in real life than it did in the photos and videos that the Tile’s creator, Reveal Labs, posted to their website during the funding period.

Wondering why both my neighbor and I (and other reviewers) had the same reaction, I checked one of the ads that was — and is still — used to promote the Tile. Sure enough, the image Tile chose does an excellent job of masking the Tile’s thickness. The ad makes it appear as though the Tile is barely thicker than a coin — or a key for that matter.

The actual dimensions are 37mm x 37mm x 5.3 mm. The effect is that, when attached to a keychain, the Tile feels more like the largest object on your ring, not just another key.

If you were to judge the Tile's dimensions purely from this ad, you'd probably think it was a lot thinner than it really is.

Evans claims there was no attempt to mislead customers and that the Tile used in these promotional images is the same size, shape and thickness as the units that have been shipped: “That’s the actual size. We of course wanted to advertise the correct size […] we didn’t want people to be disappointed,” he says.

The other issue with Tile being so big is that it’s going to seriously bulk up the profile of some objects when attached via the included adhesive patch.

The Tile’s casing is made of a glossy white plastic and, though its profile has rounded corners, the edges are quite sharp. It’s definitely tough enough to withstand being slotted through a standard metal tension-style key ring.

How it works

Getting a Tile set up is very easy. After you download the free Tile app (iOS only, for now), enable Bluetooth and location services, and register for a free Tile account, the app prompts you to add your first Tile.

To do so, simply press and hold on the “e” portion of the “tile” word on the Tile until the Tile emits a little tune and hold the Tile close to your iOS device when prompted to do so. Your Tile is now paired. You can add up to 8 Tiles per account.

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The Tile app will always show you the last place it “saw” (i.e., where it was in direct Bluetooth contact with) your Tile and how long ago it saw it.

To locate your missing Tile, start by going to that last known location. Once there, tap the Tile from your list to bring up the Find screen.

If a grey circle surrounds your Tile, it means your Tile is still out of the approximate 150 feet of Bluetooth range.

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Once you’re within range, the circle will switch to green. You can now tap on the Find button, which tells the Tile to start emitting a digital tune. It’s not especially loud, so unless you’re indoors, with very few competing sounds, you probably won’t hear it until you’re almost on top of it. I found that when I was outside, with the Tile in my jeans pocket, I was only barely able to hear it.

This is what the Tile sounds like when you tap the Find button. Kind of. Maybe if you held it up to your ear. This was recorded with the Tile placed 2 inches from my iPhone’s mic.

What isn’t immediately obvious is that you can tap the Tile icon in the app to see a real-time signal-strength indicator, which can help you get close enough to the Tile to hear it. If only one segment of the circle is lit, you’re at the outer edge of the Tile’s range. The segments fill in one by one until you’re within the Tile’s maximum signal strength radius (about 5-8 feet). Evans says that the decision to “hide” the signal strength indicator was intentional: “It can be a little confusing for users who are not too advanced,” he says.

A killer community

I gave my Tile to my neighbor to take with him to work. My Tile app was able to locate it perfectly.

So what happens when your Tile can’t be located by going back to the last place your app saw it?

Tile calls it the “Community Find” feature. Turns out, every person who keeps the Tile app open on their iOS device becomes a node in a much larger Tile network.

Were there 5 Tiles at the Starbucks this morning? Your Tile app took note of them. Your cubicle mate left their Tiled keys at their desk during lunch while you worked straight through? Your Tile app knows that too, even if you and your cube mate don’t. The same will be true for your Tiles.

If there’s a killer ingredient to the Tile, this is it: By leveraging the combined tracking power of thousands of Tile users (er, Tilers?), that paltry 150-foot Bluetooth radius is amplified many times over.

It’s the same concept that smart-bike maker Vanhawks is using to let owners of its Valour bikes keep tabs on their wheels should their bike make an unauthorized trip somewhere without its owner.

The Community Find method relies on people having the Tile app installed — and running — on their iOS device. If the app is closed, it cannot track the presence of Tiles. Evans realizes this could be an issue.

“We’re working on ways to entice people to keep [the Tile app] open,” he says. “It would be easy to do push notifications, but these can get annoying. We don’t want to annoy people.”

If you’re hoping to find your goodies, you’ll have the best chance of success if you live in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Houston. These, according to Nick Evans, are the top 5 cities in the world in terms of Tile ownership, though he declined to tell me exactly how many Tilers were in each location.

Annual renewal

The other drawback to the Tile is its non-user-replaceable battery. Because Tiles are sealed, which gives them a splash-proof exterior, there’s no way to access or replace any of its innards, including the battery. Tiles are only good for one year, after which Tile will get in touch to facilitate the return of your now-dead Tile and presumably give you the option to re-up for another year for another $20.

This works out to about $1.66 per month per object tracked, on an indefinite basis. Is it worth it? I guess it depends on what you’re tracking and how often you think you might misplace it.

While it may not seem like a good use of money for something mundane like a flashlight or a portable hard drive, it’s a bargain for parents who could sew a Tile into a child’s backpack, giving them a cheap alternative to other types of tracking devices. Similarly, you could hide a Tile under the seat of your bicycle (as I plan to do) making for a very inexpensive (if not perfect) LoJack system.

Conclusion

The $20 Tile is a device that does exactly what it claims: It helps you locate misplaced objects using your smartphone in a way that is easy and intuitive.

For most people, even though the Tile is only effective for a year, it offers a convenient, expandable and soon — according to Evans — shareable way to track your most commonly lost articles.

If, on the other hand, you’re main purpose in using the Tile is to track a stolen object in real-time, your mileage may vary.

Because this use case only works in areas where the concentration of Tilers is sufficiently high, for now at least, most places are not going to offer you the Tile coverage needed for the Community Find method to work well enough for this.

That said, if sales of Tiles continue at their current pace, it might not be long before most urban areas possess a very strong network of users.

-Courtesy: VentureBeat

Snapchat Steps On Twitter’s Toes, Lets You Follow Remote Events Live

Snapchat has just updated its app with a brand new Live section that will incorporate Our Story into everyone’s feed, regardless of location. Our Story is a Snapchat product that lets users contribute snaps to a single Story (or, thread of snaps) from a single event.

The product first launched back at Electronic Daisy Carnival, and then went on to Rio, Outside Lands, and Lollapalooza. The reaction was great and users contributed over 350 hours of snaps over the course of those events.

Today, the feature is going Live (if you will) for all users, letting them “experience Stories contributed by the Snapchat community at all sorts of events [...] around the world,” according to the official blog post.

It’s unclear how events will be chosen to be a part of Snapchat’s new Live “Our Story” section, or whether or not this will one day act as a revenue stream for Snapchat. It’s not hard to imagine music festivals, sporting events, concert tours, colleges, or other ‘location-based communities’ paying for access to a marketing channel like Snapchat’s main feed page.

We’ve reached out to Snapchat for more clarity on just how the company plans to select various events, but for now you can update the app to take a look at the new “Live” section. It can be found under Recent Updates.

Courtesy: Techcrunch

Instagram’s New Hyperlapse App Makes Mobile Timelapse And Steady Video Capture Easy

Instagram is building new apps that aim to do more with mobile photography, and today they’re launching Hyperlapse, which allows you to make timelapse videos using standard video captured with your smartphone camera on the fly. The Hyperlapse app launch closely follows the international launch of Bolt, Instagram’s Snapchat-style photo sharing app, but this one looks like it has more of the ingredients that made Snapchat such a success.

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The app, which is due to be released at 10 AM PT today, offers iPhone users a way to make professional-looking timelapses without expensive photography equipment like pro cameras, steady-mounts or tripods, and takes advantage of image stabilization tech that makes use of movement data gathered by gyroscopes to mimic the effect of ultra-expensive motion stabilization software used by film studios, but using a fraction of the processor power to get it done.

One impulse at Instagram was to build it into its existing app, but doing so would’ve hidden the functionality too much for those really eager to try it, and made it virtually invisible to the average user who might not realize they even want it, per Wired. To me, this sounds like Instagram learned a lesson from Instagram Video and Direct, and wanted to give this cool new tech the attention it deserved as its own app, where it stands a good chance of going viral rather than being adopted by just some of Instagram’s existing user community.

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Instagram’s Hyperlapse is, like its original product, focused on       simplicity – the only thing that you can change about your captures is the speed of playback. You use a slider to control how fast the video you eventually share will play at, from standard 1x speed (i.e. the normal speed at which it was recorded) to 12x.

Even at 1x, you get to take advantage of the advanced image stabilization techniques, but the same video is bound to produce an extremely different final effect depending on what playback speed you combine with the automatic stabilization effects.

This looks to be one of the coolest new mobile apps released in a while, particularly from the Facebook/Instagram crowd. The app is live now for iPhone owners (Android users will have to wait for a later version, unfortunately), and we’ll soon post our impressions regarding this new stabilization tech and its effectiveness.

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

Roomlia Takes On HotelTonight With Mobile Hotel Reservations App

Today Roomlia has launched into the App Store to provide the fastest hotel booking on mobile.

Started by two former Expedia employees, Michael Reichartz and Jim Ferguson, Roomlia offers discounted hotel rooms up to seven days in advance with only a few clicks to complete booking. Unlike Expedia and its counterparts, Roomlia links you directly with your chosen hotel the moment you book, as opposed to negotiating rates and payments through the hotel site and the hotel itself.

Roomlia links directly with hotels’ operations systems to make sure that the experience is super quick and painless. When you first log in, you’re given an extensive list of cities. You can choose one, or search for one that isn’t on the list, and you’re immediately shown a list of hotels with pictures, ratings, and average prices.

Certain hotel rooms have extra deep discounts, which is displayed with a red flag on the listing. These only last a limited time.

Users can put in their hotel dates on the bottom using a calendar or a slider to show the number of nights desired. Roomlia users have the opportunity to book a stay as long as five nights.

HotelTonight, on the other hand, only gets you discounts on the day of booking.

Once you choose a hotel, you can simply swipe to the left to book, sending you directly into contact with the hotel to complete booking. Everything is done in two taps.

On the hotel side, hotels will be able to handle their inventory and minimize vacancy with greater lead times than traditional last-minute services.

The hospitality industry is aflutter with new technology, with smaller players coming in to streamline back-end operations, and bigger guys launching interesting tech initiatives to keep competitive. For example, Starwood launched a robotic butler, while Hilton Hotels has a new app that allows you to choose your room and check out without speaking to another human.

Roomlia launches today on the App Store with access to over 250 hotels and growing.

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

Which Apps Are Eating Your Battery? Normal Will Tell You.

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Somewhere, somehow, maybe less than a year after I got the latest version of my iPhone, its battery would mysteriously deplete in about half a day.

I wasn’t really sure why. But now I can find out.

There’s a new app called ‘Normal’ out from a pair of Stanford Ph.Ds in computer science named Adam Oliner and Jacob Leverich, who are turning some postdoctoral research into a company called Kuro Labs.

Their first project, Normal, is a battery diagnosis service that tracks and compares your app usage to other iOS device owners to see if there are any specific actions you can take to save battery life. The 99 cent app compares your phone’s battery usage over time with other people who have similar combinations of apps.

Hence, the name ‘Normal’ — is your phone’s battery life normal compared to other devices that are the exact same model?

“Battery is a pain point and there are not good solutions,” Oliner said. “The device doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. Why is it using so much energy? Is that normal or not? That’s what we’re trying to adjust.”

When you go inside Normal, you’ll see active apps, inactive battery hogs and other apps. For each app, there is a ring chart that will show you how much battery life you’ll save if you close a specific app.

normal-screenshotSo for instance, if I shut Facebook’s mobile app off, Normal estimates that I’ll save 26 minutes and 47 seconds of battery life. Or if I close inactive apps running in the background like Instagram, I’ll save an hour and seven minutes.

Certain apps can be re-configured to use up less battery. Oliner says Pinterest, for example, is not normally a battery hog but there are a few configurations that make it more energy intensive. There’s a screen inside the app that will tell you if a specific app is behaving normally compared to other identical apps on other smartphones.

The app is based on a project Oliner led at UC Berkeley that eventually became an app called Carat. The concept seems almost identical. That older app would quietly take measurements from your device, combine that data it with other people’s anonymized usage metrics, and then send back tips on whether to update your OS or kill or restart apps.

Now that Oliner is finished with postdoc work, he decided to start a new bootstrapped company with Leverich called Kuro Labs that may spin out more similar concepts. He hinted at looking at laptops or tablets.

“The closest analogous company is something like Bugsense, which diagnoses crashes,” he said. “But we’re doing energy instead.”

 

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

GoGoVan Raises $6.5M Series A To Expand In Asia

Hong Kong-based GoGoVan, an app that connects van drivers and users for on-demand delivery services, announced today that it has completed a $6.5 million Series A led by Centurion Private Equity.

The company, which launched in July 2013 and currently has access to 18,000 registered commercial vehicles, plans to use the funding to add more features and expand into new markets in Asia. TechCrunch profiled the startup in June 2014.

GoGoVan says it is currently working with corporate clients including Kerry Logistics, SF Express and DHL and has processed more than one million transactions with a total value of over $120 million Hong Kong dollars (about $15.5 million), with 300,000 transactions per month in Hong Kong.

After expanding into Singapore this summer, GoGoVan plans to tackle other Asian cities.

In a statement, Steven Lam, GoGoVan’s co-founder and CEO, said “In Hong Kong, within nine months of our launch in July 2013, we captured close to 50% of the independent logistics providers. We are confident we will achieve the same result in Singapore.”

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

Spring, David Tisch’s Latest Venture, Is Instagram For Shopping

For the past year, investor and serial entrepreneur David Tisch has been working with his brother Alan to build an enjoyable way to shop on mobile. Today, that fruits of that labor springs onto the scene.

Ladies and gentlemen, behold Spring, the most advanced effort at fashion-focused mobile shopping yet.

For all intents and purposes, you could absolutely call spring an Instagram for shopping.

But it goes beyond just that to incorporate pieces of a few other favorite apps, including Uber and Tinder.

When first signing on to the app, it looks like Instagram dressed up in white. You’re given the opportunity to “follow” brands that you like, and simply scroll through the feed to love items or to buy.

When you find an item you want, you can scroll through multiple images Tinder-style, with a description and a price all displayed on the main feed. If you’re still interested, you simply click the buy button and choose your size.

Upon your first purchase, Spring will ask for your address and credit card info, and from that moment your payment details are saved within the app.

For that purchase and every purchase after that, it takes one simple motion to complete the purchase, a swipe. Interestingly enough, Amazon has a patent on single-click buying, so the swipe gets around that in a way that lets form follow the function of the app.

I myself have slid that little buy bar back and forth a few times before fully committing to a purchase, which seems like relatively standard behavior while shopping.

Folks have been talking about building a universal shopping cart for a long time, but big fashion and retail brands want to control every part of their own experience.

Spring actually delivers on that promise of a universal shopping cart by offering a platform for brands, without forcing multiple competing vendors to dress up in the same uniform and ultimately lose a piece of their brand.

 

 

Fashion brands can upload their own looks the same way that other brands control their social media presences on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Those items are displayed chronologically and in real-time on the feed, and only the brands that each user follow gets a spot on the home stream.

However, there are a couple other tabs that hep users find items and brands outside their usual tastes. Discover offers up categorized content that is compiled by various brands or influencers. Browse, on the other hand, gives you the option the shop by clothes type or popularity.

There is no social component or public profiles, but rather a one-to-many dialogue between brands and their followers on mobile.

Spring is launching with almost 100 brands on the platform, ranging from high end designers like Carolina Herrera to less expensive brands like Warby Parker and Greats Brand.

More than 50 other brands are set to join the platform soon, with more being added every week once the platform is up and running.

Vendors handle all pieces of order fulfillment, shipping, and customer service. And in return for complete control over the experience, brands will pay an transaction fee for every purchase made.

Spring recently raised a $7.5 million Series A round to make this possible. 

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

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