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Apple Rolls out ‘Find My’ to Bicycles and More: Sports Tech Thoughts

FindMyVanmoof

Today Apple announced their Find My feature is now available to 3rd party devices, and two of the three device partners for the initial launch are sports related. There’s the Belkin’s sport headphones, and the VanMoof S3 & X3 electric bikes. The third device isn’t on the market yet, but is the Chipolo OneSpot tracker, which is basically like a Tile tracker, but now also integrated with Apple’s Find My.

Now before we talk about Apple’s implementation and the ramifications, one should note that what we see today is iterative on both their own technology and others. For example, a few years back 4iiii added Chipolo tracking to their power meters. It’s even on my mountain bike power meter from them. Sure, it won’t keep someone from stealing your bike, but it might make finding it easier again – depending on the motives of the thief, and whether there are enough Chipolo users nearby.

Similarly, as we saw a few weeks ago, Fitbit added Tile support to their wearables. The idea being you can use your smartphone app to find your Fitbit tracker. Though, I suspect most of us probably want to use our Fitbit to figure out where on earth we left our phone in our house. But hey, iterative steps.

VanMoof’s Find My Feature:

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Now, the VanMoof bicycle case is interesting to me. Mainly because up until semi-recently I actually had a VanMoof bike (the one above). In my case, I paid for their subscription service to have a non-electric Smart S. For those not familiar, VanMoof’s main thing in life is that they’ve got connected bikes. Up until about a year ago, that was both electric and non-electric bikes, but now they’ve gone all e-bikes. However, the connected bits primarily referred to two pieces. The first was a smartphone app that could do some basic things like lock and unlock your bike, set the alarm options (which is crazy loud), track mileage, and check battery status. But the more appealing part of their smartphone app was that, in conjunction with a service they offered, they’d find your bike in the event it was stolen.

The service was basically started off with them turning on some tracking on the bike, once triggered, and then if required they’d escalate to sending out people to track it down ‘in the real world’. If they failed, you’d get a new bike on them (assuming you paid for the service).

Now in my case with my non-electric bike, it was a subpar experience (I don’t know if the full e-bikes are different). See, the tracking was only tied to whether your phone was there with it. So for example, when I would go on trips for a week and park my bike somewhere else, in some cases it never even showed where the bike was parked (a week later). This despite having plenty of battery in the bike. Also, in general, while the bike visually looked great (if you liked the modern design), actually was poorly made or assembled. Silly things like nobody ever bothered to glue the pedal reflectors on (so they flew off constantly), and it that was delivered to me at the showroom with a flat tire (seriously), and the three-speed shifting wouldn’t shift unless I backwards pedaled during each shift (every time). Eventually I simply stopped using it, and after paying more than it was worth in subscription fees, I returned it. I had high hopes, but was disappointed on multiple fronts, including how much VanMoof hyped the app, but ultimately I found it pretty underwhelming at the time. Perhaps things have changed.

With today’s announcement, their S3 and X3 bikes are now compatible with Find My, which if you’re an Apple user you’ll be familiar with. Essentially you can open an app on your phone and find other Apple products, like your iPad, phone, and computers. You can also do some basic management too, like triggering noises or such. With Apple’s expansion of Find My, now 3rd parties can get in on the action. Which, is exactly what VanMoof has done.

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For new S3 and X3 bikes purchased as of today, they’ll come equipped with the Find My feature. This means that it’ll show up on their Find My list of things, 24×7, according to VanMoof (unlike my non-electric version which seemed to update 0x0). Sure, this allows you to find it, but it also lets you honk the horn too – making it easy to find your bike amongst hundreds of other bikes in the racks in Amsterdam (where VanMoof is based). That’s useful…especially if you are a bit foggy on exactly where you parked it…5 imaginary pre-pandemic bar visits ago (all restaurants have been closed here since last fall).

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All of this depends on slightly new hardware, which is why it’s only working on the newer bikes from now, and not older ones.

One of the important things here to understand is that unlike your iPhone or Mac using Find My, this isn’t leveraging WiFi or cellular in the bike itself. Instead, with the new 3rd party access to Find My, it’s using a different chipset akin to Apple’s U1 Ultra Wideband chip to act like a Tile/Chipolo network, leveraging other devices in the network – all without direct cellular/WiFi access. In the requirements for getting access to the Find My network, Apple notes:

“With this, third-party device makers will be able to take advantage of Ultra Wideband technology in U1-equipped Apple devices, creating a more precise, directionally aware experience when nearby.”

More importantly though, if someone else finds your device (such as those sport earphones mentioned earlier), it’ll show a message on their phone on how to contact you. You’ll need to first set the device as ‘lost’, and then from there specify the contact info. While Tile and Chipolo have millions of devices, Apple has hundreds of millions of devices out always passively looking for things. The U1 chip is currently in the iPhone 11 & 12 series phones, as well as the Apple Watch Series 6 and HomePod Mini. Though oddly, not the newer AirPods Max (the crazy expensive headphones), nor any of the newer M1 Macs.

Other Applications in Sports Tech:

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Of course, when Apple throws its weight behind something, it’s rare that it doesn’t quickly find mass adoption. And undoubtedly, 3rd parties will flock to the Find My feature with their own implementations. The question is: To what extent?

And that extent will largely depend on how complicated it is to implement technically, but also process-wise. For example, Apple’s HomeKit specifications and agreements are well known to be more convoluted than 3rd party companies prefer. Thus, while there is adoption there – it’s more limited than other Apple developer programs (and far more limited in support than the Google Home integration, which is found on virtually every smartphone device made). Over time that’s shifting, but it’s ultimately slowed adoption of HomeKit devices.

On the technical side, I think the implementation seen in Chipolo’s upcoming ONE Spot tracker is probably the most interesting one. Here’s an ultra-low-power device using the technology that crosses the divide into the Chipolo network. This effectively acts as a gateway to stick a Chipolo tag on something and have it be tracked within your Find My app, rather than the Chipolo app. But more importantly, it makes your small Chipolo tracker compatible with hundreds of millions of devices rather than just the few million Chipolo users. Inversely, Chipolo isn’t limited to just iOS, but also Android compatible too.

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As you shift this lens into the sports world, I’d imagine the likes of Specialized and others would be looking to put Find My chips on their bikes, especially their e-bikes. Heck, once the Chipolo Find My enabled tracker becomes available in June (and thus the reach of all those Apple devices), I’m going to buy a few to stick semi-hidden on our cargo bikes. Sure, we have other theft protection on it, but one more layer is handy.

But what about the likes of Garmin and others? Well, I think Fitbit has kinda paved that way for them. Today, Garmin’s ‘Find’ feature is tied to your specific phone, via just Bluetooth. Whether it’s finding your phone from your watch, or finding your watch from your phone – both require a direct and active Bluetooth connection with your phone. Thus, it only works if you’re close enough for that to happen. And it doesn’t work if your Garmin device is off. Or if the Garmin Connect app is closed, hung, or otherwise out to lunch.

For example, take a Garmin Edge bike computer – once you power that off, it’s as good as dead to any locate functions. Whereas something like the Chipolo tracker isn’t. It’s passively there still, and in the case of Chipolo’s tracker, tied to a tiny coin-cell battery – exactly as 4iiii has done with their power meter. There’s undoubtedly space inside most bike computers on the market for this type of thing to be implemented. Though, I think the value here is more in the bike itself than anything else.

But heck, why stop there. If the number of views on my ‘How to find your lost GoPro’ video is any indication – I’d find having this built into that super handy. Undoubtedly most GoPro’s that are lost during action are eventually found…just by the wrong person. If this could tell that person how to get it back to you – I suspect many people would. Or even, just having this in my own darn home would be useful.

Finally, I think too many people get fixated on the ‘stolen’ argument with these sorts of tech. Yes, that’s important, but as the name implies ‘Find My’ is more about finding something you’ve misplaced. Some people also use it to keep tabs on family members (such as the elderly or kids). To have this built into a watch as someone runs sans-phone throughout the city, quietly laying a breadcrumb trail of location clues, in case of emergency, seems like it could have substantial safety applications beyond finding a fancy bike.

With that – thanks for reading!

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56 Comments

  1. I am excited about this.

    I get the impression you’ll get a decent number of comments here but not so many. The tech comes over as needing an extra layer of explanation before it takes off. But when it takes off it could end up being everywhere.

    I agree with the ‘dont get tied up with stolen gear’, that said I believe that the electric version of the VanMoof bikes had a remote kill switch that immobilised them. #handy. shimano would probably be interested in that as well. more besides.

  2. Kevin

    The Chipolo ONE Spot intrigues me as an Android user. However, Chipolo’s site says “Chipolo ONE Spot works exclusively with the Apple Find My app.” Can you verify that it would work with the standard Chipolo app, but still capitalize on the huge Apple install base?

    Thanks,
    Kevin

    • Hmm, that’s a very interesting point. I’ll have to do some digging. I had assumed the Chipolo tracker would still work on Chipolo, because otherwise Chipolo is basically saying their network is useless (which…well…in comparison, I guess it kinda is).

      The only reason they wouldn’t support that network would be if Apple’s compliance doesn’t allow dual networks. I know from past conversations with other companies, dual-networks wasn’t an issue technically. But given Apple being Apple, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if they restrict things for (anti-)competitive reasons.

    • Eli

      It’s a very important point. And depends on how apple implements this. A tracker is very simple, it just broadcasts a unique identifier. The apple network means apple phones will collect all trackers it detects nearby and uploads that and current location to apple. Will apple share that info? Unlikely. So each tracker network is different. Will apple allow others to find things apple knows where they are? Has apple ever been open like that?

    • GLT

      Apple was willing to collaborate on Exposure Notifications. Vaguely similar, but I wouldn’t take that as a predictor of future policy.

    • Eli

      Not at all the same. It doesn’t identify the location of a device and requires the user to say they are infected. I.e. no location info and the search is in the opposite direction. The central server only keeps a record of those that are infected and only a way to track of you came in contact with them in the past, not moving forward.

      link to theconversation.com

    • Eli

      So even if they took away the rolling keys that help keep things anonymous (a huge huge ask as that was a central part of why they weren’t against this) and so you could submit the the beacon identifier of what you lost you wouldn’t have any way of knowing where it is, only users who passed by it would know they passed something that was reported lost

    • GLT

      Agreed that the effect visible to the end user of the service is not at all similar. Exposure Notifications wasn’t an attempt to solve the same need so understandably it is structured differently. It is an example of Apple being able to collaborate with others with scan results though.

      I agree with your overall point. Apple is not likely to host item-location data and allow anyone to leverage it for free. Likely all other for-profit businesses they will monetize whatever they can.

    • Eli

      Apple wasn’t giving away any data

    • AH

      Both Google and Apple had the same approach to exposure notifications…

      It was about privacy. The exposure API was built rapidly and to deter governments from trying to build something that’d snoop. Which is why it works ‘out of app’ and at system level.

      It’s just not something that should at all be considered in the same conversation, really.

      Not like I think Apple will open it up… (not for anti competitive reasons, though probably a part of it). Why would you build a system ahead of your competitors and then anchor it to older tech just to support dual networks you don’t really control with an inferior approach. USB-C being an example of a terrible standard there.

  3. dr_lha

    I’m assuming that even though 4iiii includes Chipolo, their power meters won’t work with Apple’s Find My. I tried it this morning, and it didn’t work. I wonder if this is something 4iiii can add with a firmware update?

    • My understanding is there’s additional hardware required there – and I think even a logo on the device physically. I haven’t dug into the full developer bits, as the Apple site for it keeps looping me back in circles.

  4. Adam

    Certainly interesting to see more tech being added to the ‘find my’ and with Apple phones being part of the mesh it will certainly be effective.
    I assume a lot of this is sold to us as a feature, but again can’t help but wonder are we being tracked for someone else’s profit.

  5. Couple of things Ray: “ sup-bar” — I think you meant “sub-par” (unless of course you were thinking about food again!) and “that crosses the deice into the Chipolo network” — not clear what deice means here. This is exciting stuff and I’m definitely going to get some Chipolo ONE Spots for my bikes (autocorrect thinks it should be “Chipotle”, food again!)

  6. James McClellan

    Okay, so what they really did was give 3rd party apps the ability to find your bike or whatever that app wants you to find. But Apple itself didn’t do that. Which isn’t anything new at all, except on Apple. Now if Apple actually did do that in their own Map application that would be praiseworthy however simply noteworthy what they actually did is. I hate click bait of this type. What the headline was is an outright lie to simply toot Apple’s horn for something they didn’t do. Smh.

    • James

      Unless I have not read the article properly… Apple have enabled 3rd party access to the Find My app where I would previously go to see the location of family members and my Apple devices? Now I could theoretically see my bike and any other device with a 3rd party tracker which has been enabled with the app?. So not sure how the title or article is click bait?

    • James McClellan-

      “What the headline was is an outright lie to simply toot Apple’s horn for something they didn’t do. Smh.”

      No, you’re wrong. And as James #2 explains to you, it’s exactly what you wanted:

      “Apple have enabled 3rd party access to the Find My app where I would previously go to see the location of family members and my Apple devices”

      Look, I get that perhaps you misunderstood or perhaps I wasn’t clear (though frankly, one could quite plainly see it all the screenshots that it’s Apple’s Find My app). But getting all upset and calling this clickbait is pretty crap. Frankly, there’s literally nobody out there who writes more boring and factual headlines in this industry than I do. I’m the peak of boring headlines.

    • Eni

      I love it, how people a) do not read the article properly and b) then think they have a basis to give a proper comment… smh

      Even I, with my limited knowledge of english, did understand what Ray meant. And no, this is certainly no click bait!

    • Leon

      Factual, yes, but facts are never boring per se. That is all up to the observer :).

    • PeterF

      “boring headlines.”

      followed by actual content

      And we (well, I) love the site for both.

    • Thanks Peter and Leon – appreciate it!

      (And, appreciate being DCR Supporters!)

  7. JJS

    Not enough that we could be tracked while carrying our mobile? Sounds to me that this is the next step of ‘big brother watching you’! Tell people that their loved devices get some kind of safety and they are willing to pay for it with another loss of freedom…!!!

    • It’s all in your control though. So if you don’t want it enabled, you simply don’t enable it.

    • JJS

      That’s a little too easy… What about those users who want this feature but won’t be tracked by other (unknown) persons? What about miss-use by placing a chipolo without the knowledge of someone who should be watched in a hidden way? It’s the same old thing: Possibilities create criminal uses too. How could this be avoided?

    • Eni

      Yeah, criminial use is possible. But this is true of many new tech/gadgets. The thing is, you won‘t be able to avoid this. The bigger problem is, that law enforcment agencys get more and more castrated by law, to pound down on those criminals.
      So, either the world stops developing new technology/new gadgets (which won‘t happen) or you start giving law enforcment proper legal ability to protect the honest people from those criminals (which won‘t happen either – actually, has even worse odds for that to happen).

    • “What about those users who want this feature but won’t be tracked by other (unknown) persons?”

      It’s no different than the existing Find My feature that’s been around a decade or something. Still run and managed by Apple, still completely under your control. The only difference is 3rd party certified devices can be added to the list, by you, not by the 3rd party.

      “What about miss-use by placing a chipolo without the knowledge of someone who should be watched in a hidden way?”

      But that’s been the case for year with Tile and Chipolo and other trackers. This doesn’t change that, except adding more devices to teh network. But ultimately, if you want to track someone, there are far better tiny GPS trackers to do that that don’t depend on much battery power or other networks. This has been the case even before GPS.

      As with any technology, it can be abused – but I think there’s a lot of cases here that can potentially help save lives and get people found (thinking solo females for example), that far outweigh the downsides that have already been around for decades on other platforms.

      Just my two cents…

    • Leon

      I wonder if it’ll work on my 5g chip now I’ve had my vaccine………

    • Only after the 2nd dose, that way you’ve got 10g.

    • Michel Heemskerk

      Well Apple has a built in feature. It will notify your phone if a tracker is in your neighborhood for too long of a time. (anti stalking measurments)

    • Richard Moody

      For all that’s holy does this mean that my w/kg is going to go down even more when I get the second jab? No more jam doughnuts for me!

  8. JimC

    Hey Ray,

    “it was a sup-bar experience” – is that some kind of play on words which I’m missing, or did you mean “subpar”?

    Cheers!

  9. Boney Malloney

    I bought a ‘Tile’, i bought several Tiles, am i doomed to using two apps?!

  10. Rouleur

    As someone who regular loses their Wahoo Tickr around the house. I hope Wahoo add this!

    All my other cycling stuff I am able to keep in one place. But for some reason I always seem to lose my HRM strap at random locations around the house.

  11. I’ve signed up to get notification when the Chipolo trackers are available. Aside from keys etc, I will experiment with adding some to my bikes, although they are insured, I don’t fancy the wait for a replacement.

    I was waiting for the Apple “AirTags” to replace Tiles that have run out of battery, but these seem the next best option. Should be cheaper than an Apple branded option too.

    I cannot wait to see what over tech this gets added to.

  12. andre

    I signed up on the waiting list too. Hope the chipolo’s will not be too expensive. €65 for a four pack, like the chipolo one are now, seems reasonable.

  13. Bob

    I hope Specialized enables this feature in the TCU of turbo series bikes. That would be a great safety feature for a bike that cost me 8000 bucks.

  14. Matteo

    I read a lot of articles about the capabilities of 5G related to IOT, sport devices should be potential heavy users of that technology, is there any rumours about it?

  15. The even bigger market could be tool tracking, tracking of other high value, but very portable, stuff.
    Milwaukee already has TICK™ Tool and Equipment Tracker link to milwaukeetool.com
    Using the ONE-KEY™ network, the TICK™ will provide location updates when it comes within a 100ft range of any phone with the ONE-KEY™ App,
    Now imagine it’s, as used in “The Blacklist,” it’s not just the hotel front desk looking, it’s all the support staff, the whole support staff eco system looking.
    Lots of folks helping ET to phone home.

  16. Eli

    Who controls the knowledge of where each tracker is? Is apple going to send to the tracker company all trackers it sees nearby? That seems highly unlikely

  17. Chris

    I wonder why VanMoof enables Find My device on their bikes?
    Would you really forget where your VanMoof is?
    I guess they hope you will use Find My Bike rather than involving their Bike Hunters which is simply cheaper if you do it yourself rather than involving VanMoof (supposing you acquired the Theft Bike Hunter option).

  18. Alan

    I was hoping for Find My Schmeckel!

  19. Marco

    Not sure which insurance you have for the cargo bikes. But the ANWB bicycle insurance comes with a tracker as well. But like you said, a double layer is even better!

  20. Richard Moody

    This is an interesting area for the big name tech companies to be moving into. I wonder if we could see tracking devices incorporated into the layup of carbon frames at time of manufacture?
    Could be an interesting article to do a review of the state of play of anti theft devices for bikes?

  21. David Hunnisett

    A couple of existing projects
    link to github.com
    implement findmy on a microbit and how the findmy feature works
    link to wired.com

  22. Purp Mint

    Apple would be dumb to release AirTags.

    Just create the Find My network and let the 3rd Party folks handle the rest.

    • I guess it just depends. For me, as a consumer, if price and features are roughly equal, I’m going to buy an Apple option over a 3rd party, especially for something like this where I’d give the edge to Apple’s privacy history over a relative small fish.

      Of course, the key statement being price and features being roughly equal. In the case of Chipolo, if their tracker works across both networks, that’s potentially worth something (though, worth less than Tile obviously, just due to numbers).

      I suppose we might see next week with the April 20th event planned.

  23. Can you please do a review for on course goggles??

  24. Ryan

    I wish there was a way to retrofit this into all BLE devices.

    My SRAM AXS parts that are already on my bike.
    My head unit or cadence or speed or any other myriad of BLE devices that are already on the bike
    My non-apple (Shure) headphones.
    And…as mentioned, my HRM…which when I’m not looking…moves itself from where i left it.

  25. Dr bennyB

    Hang on…I will soon be able to find my bike, 4iiii crank PM with my phone?
    I got to sort this out

  26. Jf

    You must have had a pretty bad vanmoof, me and my wife have one (her is the old woman model, mine is the small model) the only issue we can related is the pedal reflectors on her bike. Otherwise changing speed is working fine on mine. But I know there are a lot of complains , they need to improve their quality control … I did not know they were dropping non electrical models, the sells missy have been very low on those ( it’s pity to see people going electrical by default, it still has an impact on the environment with batteries)

  27. Jean

    From Appel’s website

    “AirTag is designed to discourage unwanted tracking. If someone else’s AirTag finds its way into your stuff, your iPhone will notice it’s traveling with you and send you an alert. After a while, if you still haven’t found it, the AirTag will start playing a sound to let you know it’s there.
    Of course, if you happen to be with a friend who has an AirTag, or on a train with a whole bunch of people with AirTag, don’t worry. These alerts are triggered only when an AirTag is separated from its owner.”

    So it is no use in case of theft. The thief will know from a iPone that a tracker is somewhere in or around the stolen goog.

    • Hmm, I wonder how that works then in real-life.

      I was thinking of putting one inside my daughters jacket, namely because she keeps losing the darn thing at school somehow (permanently…seriously). But would that then start dinging her teachers phone?