JUMP TO:

5 Sport Tech Products I Want To See AirTag Integration In

FindMySportsTech

It’s been about 5 weeks since AirTags started shipping, and like many techies, I bought a pack of them. I stealthily snuck them in our cargo bikes, and then onto our keyrings. All literally side by side with Tile. And as much as I love Tile, and its greater feature set than AirTags, the simple reality is that it’s not even close in terms of find and recovery prowess. Using the term ‘landslide’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

But that’s not what this is about. Instead, this is actually about Apple’s Find My network, which is what AirTags run atop. This is actually something 3rd parties can take advantage of. We saw VanMoof integrate it into their bikes two months ago, as did Belkin in their earbuds. Once they do this, it shows up directly in the Apple ‘Find My’ app, under a new ‘Items’ tab, the same exact place Apple’s own AirTags shown up (which are different than the ‘People’ and ‘Devices’ tabs, devices are things like Apple’s phones, tablets, or computers).

Now, admittedly, this doesn’t do anything for Android users. But look, there’s still Tile. Heck, maybe Google will just buy Tile and be done with it.

But for those not familiar, AirTags and the larger Find My network actually serve two purposes:

A) Finding things you’ve lost (hopefully temporarily)
B) Finding the location of things not lost, but needing tracking (such as a family cargo bike)

It then utilizes literally every recent Apple device out there, to find and track those items 24×7. You don’t need to mark them as lost. I can simply open the app up at any time and see the location of any of my items. It’s like live tracking for all your things.

However, as good as AirTags and 3rd party Find My devices are, it’s not a perfect system. In fact, for families or friends it has one big flaw: You can’t “share” items. Meaning, I can’t share (permanently or temporarily) the location of the cargo bike AirTag. Thus, only I can see it on my account. But my wife can’t see it, despite us having a defined Apple ‘Family’.

Making matters worse, you can’t lend someone an item without them getting stalker alerts about 8 hours later. So when my parents come next month and watch the kids for a handful of days, they’ll start getting stalker alerts from the cargo bike, because I won’t be here anymore. And because they aren’t in our Apple ‘family’, there’s nothing they can do about it. Hopefully Apple can find ways to solve both of these issues, and in fairness, they did add some new features around Find My this week as part of WWDC, though neither of these two issues were addressed.

In any case, the technology platform in terms of how it’ll grow with 3rd parties and uses cases is really just at the beginning. So let’s talk about what I’m hoping for as we go towards the 2nd half of the year, and onto 2022.

1) Action Cameras

2020-09-10 16.57.24-1-2

Hands-down, without question, the singular piece of my sports tech arsenal I want to see with baked-in Find My support is my GoPro (or, any action camera really). Mostly, because it’s the one item that’s easiest to lose (admittedly, mostly at home), but also one of the items that’s most often to be temporarily misplaced by friends (or kids) borrowing it. My past ‘How to find your lost GoPro’ post continues to drive lots of traffic, so clearly there’s demand for people finding lost GoPro’s.

At present, the way GoPro’s internal finding technology works is that you’ve got 8 hours from the moment you power it down, till Bluetooth connectivity terminates. So if you can’t find it in that 8 hours, or if the battery was dead, you’re outta luck. But of course, that’s not really Find My. That lacks many aspects of what an AirTag like thing would have, such as allowing others to find it, setting it to lost mode, and that it’ll work for a year without battery (versus 8 hours).

Thus, GoPro would need to ensure there’s always some battery leftover to power the Find My feature for ideally weeks to months. Still, I’ve gotta believe such a feature would be a huge headliner on a GoPro Hero 10.

2) All My Bikes

Sure, you can do as I’ve done, and stash AirTags in creative locations on your bike. GPLama has a video on lots of road bike locations too. And while some would argue that AirTags don’t help against theft, that’s a silly (and wrong) assertation. They give you more of a window than not having AirTags/Find My on your bike. Even if that’s a short window until a device is found. A secured/hidden AirTag in a bike gives you time to find that bike if you just dipped into a coffee shop and came out 3 minutes later to find your bike missing.

(Again, we’re not talking about just taping it under the saddle, which surprisingly The Internet widely seems to believe is some secret never-thought-of-before location. Instead, we’re talking permanently affixing it to the bike, as VanMoof has done.)

But more than that, Find My built into a bike is actually a great substitute for LiveTrack style tracking. For example, when my wife is doing the evening kids’ bike commute pickup around town, I can easily pull open the Apple Find My app and see where she currently is, using the AirTag hidden in that cargo bike. But the same is also true if I stash an AirTag into my regular bike and go out for a long ride around the countryside. This way when my phone battery dies because I took too many selfies, the AirTag still uses the endless stream of other people’s phones to find me, allowing my wife to check-in on me.

Ultimately, having it built into the frame is what I want. Somewhere that’s substantially difficult to get access to, but still chargeable (or coin-cell battery swappable). Just, with some complexity to slow people down. For me, an AirTag on a bike is 80-90% simply location tracking when a phone is dead, and 10%+ short-term theft recovery.

3) All Wireless Sport Earbuds

Like with VanMoof on bicycles, one of the other ‘launch day’ 3rd party applications for the Find My network was headphones, from Belkin. This is a great use of it for even regular headphones (such as being left on a plane or a bus), but especially in sport usage.

For example, mountain biking can often lead to earbuds falling out if the fit isn’t nailed (or, the jump not nailed). And while some earbuds do have internal finding technologies, that can require the app usually to be open at the time of the incident. If not, the app can often find it later, assuming you haven’t gone out of Bluetooth range. But if you’re descending quickly on rough trails, you may not have even realized an earbud popped out 45 seconds ago, let alone where to find it.

This gives you a chance to find it either with your own phone and the last known location, or doing another pass of the trail the next run more slowly in lost mode till it picks it up.

4) Bike Computers

While I’ve argued for baking it into your bike above, the reality is most of us aren’t replacing our bikes anytime soon. Plus, the bike industry works at glacial speeds, and it’ll take the majors quite some time to get their ships shifted. However, bike computers are something most of us buy far more frequently than new bikes, and can also go between our bikes (such as from a mountain bike to road bike).

In this scenario, I’m again not super interested in the theft side of things. Sure, that’s loosely valuable for a short period, but I’m more interested in poor man’s tracking. Or basically, dead-phone tracking. In general, there’s an 0% chance my bike computer will have its battery die. Whereas there’s an approximately ‘very high’ percentage chance my phone will die. With a bike computer-enabled here, it’ll simply transmit my location via my friends’ phones (who are far better battery charging people than I), and then my wife can see where I am.

Of course, this once again depends on Apple opening up sharing of ‘Items’ the same way they show sharing of people location. Today, she wouldn’t be able to see this, because I can’t share my AirTags or ‘Find My Items’ with her (or with anyone else). But assuming that gets solved, this works perfectly for that.

Plus, it’s also helpful for the semi-rare scenario I misplace my bike computer. And hey, I can even toss the bike computer in my luggage then and it’ll act like a luggage tracker. Or, it’ll get stolen (and then I can track it again!).

5) Sports Drones

I know, I know, I’ve got a small history with occasionally misbehaving drones.

But realistically, sport-focused drones like the Skydio, or even some DJI models are arguably one of the best examples of where Find My can be super powerful, especially with a UWB chipset in there. In most cases if a drone following you goes down, many drone apps/controllers have ‘last known locations’ in their systems. However, the challenge with that, is that it only shows you the last known location that the drone could talk to you about.

Meaning, if the communications between the drone and the controller are severed (battery dislodged, communications interference, etc), but the drone is still going somewhere, then you won’t know where it actually went.

By having something that can go hundreds of meters in line of sight, you’ve got a much better chance of either yourself finding it, or eventually, someone else perhaps finding it. But even in close-range, the idea that a properly equipped drone could be located within a few centimeters in dense bush is super useful. Often when a drone crashes in brush, it’s trying to figure out exactly where in the brush it is. GPS coordinates in dense woods tend to be a bit iffy on drones, and when a camera is facing a leaf, that’s not super helpful either. Whereas using the UWB pinpointing capabilities would be amazing here.

Of course, it’s not perfect. It won’t do jack-all for my watery situations (either drone or GoPro), as the signal won’t connect through. But hey, that gives me even more reason to buy an underwater drone. I mean, for taking underwater 4K openwater swim videos of course.

Still, would love to hear what other sports tech products would be interesting in the sports tech range. I can think of my other examples that could have baked in finding technology, from watches to heart rate straps, to power meters. And in fact, some of those have already been tried. We saw Fitbit add Tile support, and 4iiii add Chipolo support. Though, the Chipolo network is obviously far smaller, and in this particular endeavor, size definitely matters.

With that – thanks for reading!

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
If you would like a profile picture, simply register at Gravatar, which works here on DCR and across the web.

You can click here to Subscribe without commenting

Add a picture

*

35 Comments

  1. I have thought that a stem cap would be an ideal bike component to have Find My integration. I like my current bikes and don’t want to replace them, so a simple bolt on component with Find My integration would work best for me.

  2. andrew

    for bikes, there’s no reason you can’t just put a regular airbag in a saddle bag. If anything it makes more sense than baking it in because you won’t have to go searching in the down tube for a battery to change a year from now

    • Sure, but it depends on what you want it for. If the goal is purely rider tracking, then yes, saddle bag is great.

      However, if the goal is to have short-term theft tracking, then the saddle bag is useless, and something affixed permanently to/in the frame is what you want.

    • Doug Goglia

      I think you can probably attach an airtag somewhere to the underside of your saddle with 3M two-sided trim tape available at any auto parts store. It secures things pretty well, but they still can be removed with a little effort. This should provide at least short term assistance in recovering a stolen bike, assuming a thief doesn’t know to look for the airtag and remove it.

    • Claus Jacobsen

      Jup – i have actually talked to the product manager from the danish brand Kildemoes (they do a LOT of commuter bikes) And he was very interested in looking into something like this. Especially since that part of the cyclingworld is going e-bike and hence much more expensive than before.

    • Dave

      “and something affixed permanently to/in the frame is what you want.”

      How about something affixed semi-permanently?

      Some kind of (3D printed?) metal bracket that encapsulates the AirTag and is bolted to the bike frame, and can only be removed with a dedicated tool.

      Sure they can remove it if they have the right tool on them at that moment, but it’s likely that an opportunistic thief won’t. The need for a dedicated tool to unlock the bracket would stop the AirTag from being *instantly* removable, and buy you enough time to track and recover your bike.

    • “How about something affixed semi-permanently?”

      Yup, that’s pretty close to what’s out there. I’ve got a pile of BikeTagger’s that I bought that basically do exactly that, that slot under the water bottle spot. It’s a good, relatively hidden, location, that as you noted takes at least a minute to remove – so non-ideal for grabbing a bike at a cafe and running.

      But sitting aside theft, it’s a good place for day to day usage. Review shortly.

  3. Edwin

    Samsung has SmartTag support (even prior to Apple). I believe they have an api which newer Tile hardware could tap into. I also think Android will have an open api once they iron out privacy issues. Apple on the other hand had kept the api closed and why Tile won’t be as effective in that ecosystem.

    • Sepi

      Nope.

      Apple’s Find My network is open for third parties. Look at Chipolo tags, for example. Apart from UWB functionality (also coming to third parties), they are identical in functionality.

      Tile just doesn’t want to participate in Find My because they are busy filing “monopoly” complaints against Apple and their 15% global market share.

  4. good topic/nice article

    some points
    1. there can be the physical creation of a ‘space’ in which to secrete an Airtag eg on a bike; or
    2. there could be adding the ‘chip’ inside the device when manufactured. I’d be interested to know what this involves and if there are any size/power issues (I would guess not)
    3. chipolo – the new One Spot mostly works like airtag and NOT on their app network. bizarrely it can be reset by someone who finds it ie they can use it as theirs.
    4. airtag needs a mode that doesn’t alert the thief to a stolen item they are carrying so it can be tracked rather than letting the thief find it and discard it – though I’m not sure how apple could differentiate that mode from a mode that stalkers would use.
    5. having Find My support hardwired permanently into a Garmin Edge device would be very interesting. I guess they are more likely to be lost/stolen than watches. I guess Garmin would make more money from a 1040 LTE Solar that would serve the same purpose.

    I’m struggling to think of additional item types to add to your list.

    A different way of looking at the issues would be to ask if we could install permanent or temporary locations points. Perhaps ones that are more ‘always on’ and ‘more powerful’ than trusting to the vagaries of someone standing around with their iPhone. such a location point could mark your lap on a race, a lap around a public park or be at key train stations.

  5. ChrisTexan

    “tag” makers need to Qi enable charging (if possible, a lot to ask in a tiny form factor)… this way, you can literally epoxy a tag inside your frame out of site and out of “removability” (someone looking in the frame wouldn’t even see it, it’s just part of the blobs of resin inside the frame)… have a “clip on” (like pony-clamp) charger that can clamp the charger onto “anything” and charge within a few mm, and there ya go, permanently installed, rechargeable, non-removable tagging.
    Stryd pod (and other similar items) would also be an excellent place for “tags” like this! Walking a trail with your phone with a BT/ANT+ “stumbler” app to try and find where it popped off your laces (even if you know roughly where it may have happened, we are talking a small, black, pod in the brush possibly) is not a fun endeavor to consider having to do.
    For lifespan, these should have a non-device-battery power source. In other words (your GoPro example) a small capacitor capable of sustaining power solely to the tag circuitry, for days after the main battery itself dies, would take little space and avoid the “when the GoPro dies, you lose contact” issue.
    Ultimately, if they can “react” like NFC tags, a-la “toll tag readers” that would be even better… get to within a few feet of the device via the normal geotagging method, then have the phone use NFC broadcasting and (if possible to triangulate in-phone, no idea if it is) maybe it can then direct you straight in the direction of the device.
    No idea if that’s possible, since toll-tag readers for example are typically something like 12x8x8 inch antenna structures (housing and internals) rather than the cell phone capabilities, and likely are using many watts of power, versus cell-phone NFC which is likely milliwatts (I’ve never really reviewed the NFC systems in phones since they started incorporating them)…
    But this could become a new business market, a “find-my” company that you pay a certain amount, and they have the field gear to go hunt down things like this… may not be profitable at consumer-friendly fees and usage though…
    Anyhow random thoughts!

    • tfk, the5krunner

      the UWB in AW6 and >=iPhone 11 is a way to get a directional signal to your AirTag..I had it working up to 30m outdoors but lucky to get 10m indoors

  6. Philip

    Wasn’t there a crank based power meter that bad some tracking built in a few years ago. This is quite a good place for tracking as it already has power.

    • Roman

      On the note of Powermeter integration, DI2 and AXS would be fantastic places. They get charged anyway, and taking it off at least will cost the thief some money.

  7. Fred Lee

    I’m not too concerned with theft, personally. I’m concerned with figuring out whether I left something at work, or is it in the house, or in the car, or in the garage, or in the detached shop. This is true of many things, but sports-related:

    1. Biking shoes.
    2. Sunglasses
    3. Bike computers
    4. Bike lights

    I’d love to have integration on all the things. I don’t think I’d be averse to swapping CR2032s on my shoes once in a while if it meant I’d never lose them again. Sunglasses might be a little trickier of course. I’d also like to be able to drop a few locators around the house to help with more precise location finding.

    I wonder how well the “Find My” network scales. Within my house, which is on 10 acres and unlikely to get much “pollution” from other devices, it scales just fine. But if suddenly many people were carrying a dozen “Find My” devices on them all the time down a busy New York street, would the network be able to handle the load?

    • Andreas

      Serious question, how do you loose your shoes? I didn’t even know that this is possible. Socks yes, most times just one of them, but shoes?

    • Fred Lee

      I’ve got a garage bay for bikes and bike stuff. Shoes should be on the bike shoe shelf, which is right below the bike helmet shelf.

      Sometimes they’re not, because they’re in a car. Or sometimes I wore them inside the house and my girlfriend kindly put them away on a shoe rack somewhere. Sometimes they’re in the gym bag because I went for a bike ride over lunch from work, and never put them away. Sometimes they just got knocked off the shelf and are now behind the shelving unit.

      Now, of course, they’re *usually* right where they’re supposed to be. Just like my carkeys are *usually* in the car-key bowl on the counter. But the whole point is that once in a while they’re not because one of a potentially large number of exceptional conditions occurred, and for those times I could definitely see having a tracker be useful.

      Is it critical? Nah. Clearly we’ve survived as a species without Find My for at least a couple decades. But in the universe of “things that might get lost”, they’re definitely in that set.

  8. Charlie Anderson

    “Or basically, dead-phone tracking. In general, there’s an 0% change my bike computer will have it’s battery die.”

    I think you meant 0% chance the bike computer’s battery dies.

  9. Marco

    How do you and your wife track the same AirTag? I thought this was not possible with two different accounts. Had hoped that Apple will allow “family sharing” of AirTags in iOS 15 but doesn’t seem like they would. (I don’t get why I can find my son’s Laptop but not his AirTag …)

    • Nope, as noted there’s no way to do it. It sucks. I’ve contemplated putting two AirTags on the bikes at the same time, one to her account, and one to mine.

    • Marco

      Yeah, two AirTags might be the solution 😉 Does your wife get “stalker alerts” driving around with your AirTag or can this be at least turned off for family members?

    • Thankfully, Apple allowed ‘family’ members to disable stalker alerts for devices from their family.

      Thus, it seems like they’ve laid a bunch of groundwork here, and I’ve gotta believe family sharing of AirTags is next. After all, I can see my family members phones/computers/iPads.

  10. He, action cameras are not the easiest to lose. It’s the second time I lost my Stryd somewhere in the house – I think, but not 100% sure. And it likely died in the meantime, so I can’t pinpoint it now. “Last seen” for it would be awesome, at least to confirm it’s in the house.

    • Yeah, Stryd would indeed be a great one. I *NEVER* take it off my shoes, but I know a lot of people rotate shoes within a week (as opposed I just keep using the same ones and rotate on a set mileage).

      But I agree, the second I take it off (such as to charge), there’s an approximately 100% chance I’ll lose it. Sometimes to charge it, I thread the USB cord through the shoe laces, so the two are ‘stuck’ together. 🙂

  11. inSyt

    Will Qi charging working through metal frames?

    A chip inside the center of a tube with a pin type charging port will look conspicuous enough to thieves or will be too much of a hassle to remove. They could even get creative with the charging port and make it look like a bottle cage mount.

    • Hmm, I suspect it won’t. But I don’t know how those things work.

      The VanMoof has a small USB-port on the underside of the top-tube frame near the saddle. Works pretty well actually to just plug-in via USB battery pack.

    • Kevin MacArthur

      At the moment no it won’t and the coil designs for the transmitter and receiver become very difficult on a non-flat surface (i.e. most bike frames). Charging via an existing source like electronic gearing or e-bike battery makes more sense.

  12. Lars Borghouts

    What puzzles me most about this post, is why would you want your wife to constantly know where you are?

    • Probably because I have a reasonably long history of getting myself into sticky athletic adventurous situations, long after I said I’d be back.

    • usr

      I read that as confirmation of the obvious suspicion that she’s the one who eventually bursts in kicking everyone’s ass every single time you end up hopelessly outnumbered in a bar fight, again. Never left you hanging even once!

  13. Ken

    How I wish there could be one tracking device that was platform agnostic, kind of like the ANT+ standards. ::Sigh::

    Just like the car a couple of years ago that had apple car play but not Android auto which quickly & decisively ruled out from contention I’d be kind of pissed if GoPro or DJI put in some wonderful new feature that I couldn’t use, probably to the point of not buying. It’s not a good marketing move to tout ‘features’ that a significant portion of your customer base can’t use.

    • Eni

      Exactly. We have Samsung and Apple Smartphones in our family. So if a device wants to integrate a Bluetooth-Tag, I‘d like it to be compatible with both platforms. Wouldn‘t be too hard I guess, should only be two (small) NFC-Chips. With that, appr. 80% of Smartphone-Users (well, just a wild guess) are covered.

  14. jww

    Fun + potentially relevant fact on Go Pro …. COO’s wife works at Tile!

    • Eni

      Greatest downside with Tile is, that it needs the App to run in the background. Since there aren‘t so many Tile-Users as there are iPhone- and Samsung Galaxy-Users, they will never be so successful in tracking lost devices. Tile‘s advantage though, is their platform-idependency. But I think they need to rethink how to tap into those platform‘s resources to make it independent of other Tile-Users (meaning, not needing an App running in the background to find something lost for someone else). Unfortunately, even though some Android Brands might allow this, Apple will never, ever(!!) allow it.