Amazon Partners With Tile to Take on Apple AirTags

Todd Haselton | CNBC
  • Amazon partnered with Tile and smart lock maker Level to beef up its mesh network for tracking items.
  • The move will help Tile better compete with Apple, which has over a billion devices on its network for tracking items with its new AirTags.

Amazon is beefing up its network of connected devices to take on technologies like Apple's new AirTags.

Amazon announced Friday that it is partnering with Tile, a company that makes trackers for lost items, and Level, which makes smart locks, to use those devices to enhance its tracking network based on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology.

The strength and number of devices on a given tracking network is key to its accuracy. That's part of the reason why many think Apple's tracking network will be so strong since it relies on more than 1 billion iPhones, iPads and Macs to help with lost item tracking.

Tile has also been vocal against Apple's entry into the lost-item tracking space, recently telling Congress that it and other app developers are "afraid" of Apple's policies for third-party apps and hardware accessories.

Amazon's partnership will allow it beef up its tracking network, called Sidewalk, by letting Tile and Level devices tap into the Bluetooth networks created by millions of its Echo products. Tile will start working with Amazon's network beginning June 14.

"Sidewalk is all about the next billion things that are going to get on the network," Amazon product boss Dave Limp told CNBC's "TechCheck" on Friday. "Wi-Fi is constrained, mostly to your home, it just doesn't have the range to go into your backyard into the neighborhood. Cellular may be the future, but it's very expensive today. So Sidewalk kind of splits the difference between those two and allows us to put millions and billions of things on the edge of the network but do it in a secure way."

Sidewalk rolled out late last year and is billed as a free network sharing service throughout neighborhoods that uses Echo devices as "bridges" to share a small fraction of a users' low-bandwidth Wi-Fi with devices like Echo devices and Ring cameras.

Limp said in a statement that Tile will work with Sidewalk by integrating compatible Echo devices to extend Tile's network coverage even further, in the effort to help users securely locate misplaced keys, wallets and other items.

Amazon said Sidewalk will also strengthen Tile's existing in-home finding experience with Alexa. Customers can say, "Alexa, find my keys" and their Tile tracker will start ringing from a coat pocket or from under the bed signaling where to find their lost item.

Amazon also said users with multiple Echo devices connected to Sidewalk will be able to find misplaced items around their homes even faster. Alexa can tell users which Echo device their Tiled item is closer to, whether it is the kitchen speaker or their bedroom speaker and the day and time it was last seen near that device.

Apple announced its Tile-like product, AirTags, last month. They work in a similar way with iOS devices like iPhones and iPads. Now, Tile will connect through a larger technology ecosystem, pitting Amazon and Apple against each other in a new front of connected devices.

Sidewalk's second partnership with Level allows users to control their locks in the Ring and Level apps without needing to be in Bluetooth range of their mobile device. Instead of relying on their mobile device's Bluetooth connection, a Level lock will be able to connect directly to a compatible Ring Video Doorbell Pro device using an Amazon Sidewalk Bluetooth connection shared only between their two devices.

This means that even if a user is across town, their Level lock will stay connected, creating further functionalities within the Ring app to see and speak with whomever is at the entryway and easily lock or unlock their front door.

Amazon said its new smart-lock Level features are rolling out through updates in the Ring and Level apps and will be available by the end of May.

In response to privacy concerns, Amazon last September released a detailed white paper outlining the steps it's taking to ensure that Sidewalk transmissions stay private and secure.

Amazon said Sidewalk is equipped with multiple layers of privacy and security and that data shared over its network is protected with three layers of encryption. It's only accessible by the devices consumers choose, and data is automatically deleted every 24 hours to protect privacy. Consumers can choose to opt out of the feature by updating their preference in the Ring or Alexa mobile apps.

--CNBC's Marc Gilbert contributed to this report.

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