Tile. A Disppointing Scam

A few years ago, I became interested in Tile, a little white tracking device that—in theory—helps you to locate and find lost items.

A little over a year ago, I bought four Tile devices through an offer that one of my credit card companies was running — I had wanted to try Tile for a while and was really excited to give it a go. The Tiles showed up in my mailbox, and that’s when the excitement evaporated and the disappointment set in. A year later, I’m more than convinced that Tile is a bit of a scam. Here’s why: The authors of the Tile website are really crafty and the language is parsed VERY carefully. What the descriptions actually say and what they imply are worlds apart. This isn’t a case of things hidden in fine print, indeed all the damning details are spelled out in clear (and large) text. A quick or casual read of the website implies that Tile can: “Never lose anything again.” However, here’s where the whole experiment becomes an exercise in semantics that rivals the intellectual slipperiness of any of my graduate-level classes on Deleuze. Like Deleuzian analysis, reading the Tile website requires excruciating and miserable effort to wade through bullshit and figure out just what it is that is really being said. Let me save you the effort: it’s never what you think it is. 

Let’s do a quick fact check the Tile website.

Front and center the Tile website shows the following graphic:

Now let’s take it step by step.

Never lose anything again.
False. This is a ridiculous and nonsensical claim antithetical to the main purpose of the Tile device. If you will never lose anything again, then why would you need this device. Patently, you will lose things. The implication here is that you will never need to search for things, becasue if you cannot locate them, Tile will help you find them, which incidentally, is also false.

Tile is a tiny Bluetooth tracker and easy-to-use app that helps you find everyday items in seconds.
True and False, but mainly false. Tiny: no. Bluetooth: yes. Tracker: no. Easy-to-Use: no. App: yes. Helps you: no. Find: rarely. Everyday items: no. In Seconds: definitely, positively, not.

Attach to anything. Designed with a convenient hole, easily hook onto keys or stick to anything.
Again, some really slippery wordsmithing here. Could you attach it to anything? Technically, yes. Does it sport a convenient hole? Yes. Could you easily hook it onto keys or stick it to anything? Yes. However, again the problem lies in the implication that by attaching the Tile to something, that you will be able to find it in the aforementioned “seconds.” This claim is patently false.

See it. Ring it. Find it.
See the last place you had it on a map and make it ring when you get close.

Here’s where the BS really gets mixed with mud. The Tile website provides several “use cases.” These include: Keys Finder, Wallet Tracker, Luggage Tracker, Remote Control Finder.

Again, the implication made by the Tile website is that when lost, Tile will help you to locate these items in “seconds.” This is untrue… and here is why:

Though the Tile website implies that you simply open the app and find your missing items, this isn’t at all how Tile works. The app associates a Tile device with a particular object. I put one on my travel backpack, one on my cat’s collar, and one on my keys. The other one remained in the box, unused. Within ridiculous proximity of about 20 feet of any of these Tile devices, I can see in the app that these items are somewhere within 20 feet of me. Where? Tile offers no clues, kind of like the childhood game of Warmer! Colder! … only Tile doesn’t even give you that much information, just a vague “warm…ish.” 

So, for example, let’s say you misplace your keys, Tile device attached, somewhere in your home… looking at the app tells you “yep… last I checked… your keys are at home.” But, the app gives you no clue as to where your keys might be. That’s a pretty major fail. The “Find my iPhone” app that locates my Apple devices is scary accurate and you can judge from the location of the dot, exactly where the item is in your home. This refined level of accuracy is definitely not the case with Tile.

This is where the “ring” comes in. Allegedly, you can “ring” a Tile from the app. I found that this worked about 8% of the time over the course of the past year. Sometimes I would be standing immediately next to the Tile-d device, but it was under a piece of paper or otherwise obstructed from view, but the ringing feature didn’t actually activate any ringing sound on the Tile itself. So, that, as far as I’m concerned is a major fail.

So, let’s say instead, that you lose something away from home… like your backpack or keys. Again, the Tile app will show you where it last remembers you having it. Now, that in and of itself is a significant problem, becasue the Tile app isn’t constantly in contact with your stuff. It kind of checks in from time to time, and let’s you know where it last remembers seeing it. That is only helpful if you never move. It’s the equivalent of looking for a friend in a small town. Someone might say, “yeah, I just saw her at McDonald’s… but that was about 4 hours ago.” Dashing over to McDonalds would likely not help you to locate your friend (unless she really likes McDonalds), becasue she probably moved since the last time she was spotted there. This is a MAJOR fail on part of Tile, and the part that I feel is most misleading. While you may be able to track some movements of a Tile-d item, the information is not real time, not linear, and not even sequential. Which makes the information not only random but utterly useless. 

Devices also need to be in range of a Bluetooth enabled device. That’s not clearly explained on the website, and means that if you are out to dinner and want to double check to see if your Tile-enabled cat is home or not, that you are out of luck… unless your cat has a spare iPhone sitting around that you have “shared” the Tile with. The only problem is that the “share” feature worked exactly 0% of the time for me when shared with family and friends. So, that was a major fail too.

So at this point, if a Tile won’t ring when I’m standing next to it, won’t actually help me to zero in on the location of a missing item, and can’t tell me where my item is unless I am right on top of it…what is the point of this product?

Allegedly, when something is *really* lost, you can mark it “lost” in the Tile app. That reportedly activates a network of other Tile users and borrows Bluetooth bandwidth and battery to scour the earth for your item. Keep in mind that these unsuspecting Tile spies would need to be within 20 or so feet of your item and have their app active (which most people deactivate, becasue it’s such a battery hog) to have any chance of finding your lost item. Then, once it’s found, you get a message indicating that Tile “last saw” your lost item in a specific location. Again, the location is incredibly vague, comes in hours after the spy app actually pings the Tile-d device and the information is all but useless. Without exaggeration, I tested this feature eight times in the past year, as I traveled from North America to Europe or from Europe to North America. Of eight times, I received two notifications that my “lost” item was located. (Hardly scientific, but enough to know that it doesn’t work.) The problem is that (despite my Tile app being active and working, and within 20 feet of my “lost” item), my lost items were reported “last seen” more than 6,500km away. So, needless to say, not very accurate and not very timely, and again a major fail.

To add insult to disappointment, after using Tile for 6 months, I received an e-mail telling me that my Tile devices were getting old and would expire soon. Apparently, the battery life is poor, and Tile de-activates the Tile devices one year after they are activated. This information isn’t prominently displayed anywhere on the website, and while its unrealistic to expect a Tile device to last forever, it seems like a bit of a scam to disable it exactly one year after activation. 

Not to worry, though, because the constant pop up notifications that you will receive on your iPhone (even when notifications are turned off for the app) will never let you forget that your useless Tile devices are about to be killed by Big Brother. 

So, in short, Tile is a great idea that comes up horrifically short on execution and perhaps a bit before its time. What Tile really strives to be is a GPS tracker AND locator and sadly it is neither, but instead a clever idea that grossly under delivers. 

My advice: hold off until the technology is actually in line with your basic expectations. 

Time for a Breakup

After more than half my life as a Verizon customer, I’m filing for divorce. It’s time to #getoutofthered and switch to T-Mobile!

As you know, I’ve been plagued by problems with the Verizon TravelPass program since leaving the US a few weeks ago. 

In 2015, to great fanfare, Verizon overhauled its international roaming plans to include a $10/day travel pass that would simply deduct minutes and data from the users domestic plan. They quietly (and with no fanfare) axed this program in April 2017, without informing its customers or customer service agents. Instead, Verizon users traveling worldwide found themselves with substantial and substandard data speeds throttled in some cases after using only a few mb of data. To add insult to injury, Verizon erroneously implemented their own policy and changed the plans for customers with pay per gb plans, even though these plans were intended to unaffected by the change. 

Despite my best efforts to work with Verizon, Tiffany—the customer service representative with whom I was speaking—was shockingly cool and unprofessional in her dealings with me. She extinguished the case immediately and told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t like the policy, I could move on to another carrier. 

So after more than two decades and more than half my life as a Verizon customer, I say: goodbye and good riddance to VERIgreeedy’s overpriced plans, constantly shifting rules and ever increasing sneaky fees. I also say: I hope Verizon enjoyed its time as the once-market leader because its days are numbered as long-time customers jump ship in record numbers (more than 100,000 customers each month). It’s the new equivilent to cutting the cord.

Over the past two years, T-Mobile has quintupled its 4G LTE footprint in the US and has recently won a significant chunk of the uncluttered 600mhz spectrum. This ample bandwidth will allow T-Mobile to deploy fewer towers with greater coverage over a longer distance with greater penetration and consistency in rural and less densely populated areas. It’s the system that has been in use for decades elsewhere in the world and works well. It also gives T-Mobile substantial space for growing 5G network immediately. This is spectrum that Verizon, AT&T, and others will need to re-allocate in order to roll out 5G networks, which will put further pressure on the existing 4G LTE networks for Verizon and AT&T which have become so heavily trafficked in the past 6 months (since the re-introduction of unlimited data packages) that recent benchmarks indicate a nearly 20% loss in speed on the Verizon network and a 14% reduction in speeds on the already troubled AT&T network. Oddly, both carriers sat out of the most recent auction, which left T-Mobile a big winner both for the immediate and long-term future.

I know, for year T-Mobile has been the distant third carrier with lousy coverage outside of major metro areas. No longer. The speed reports and coverage data is impressive. T-Mobile has built out its network and has made more improvements over the past two years than the three other carriers combined. It is now a serious contender inside of major metros and in the rural areas in-between.

T-Mobile coverage in 2015
T-Mobile Coverage in 2017… filling in a lot of gaps.

John Legere, the fearless leader and CEO of T-Mobile has forged a new and exciting future for the company that was once a distant third to Verizon and AT&T. Straightforward, simple plans are the hallmark of the reinvigorated T-Mobile. There are no hidden fees, tricks, or other underhanded shady dealings that are the bread and butter of Verizon. So, stay tuned here to see the step by step transition process and how it goes. I’ll begin reporting on the transition process in early July.

#getoutofthered #verizonsucks

Tile Review

It’s funny, when you read press materials carefully, they can really reveal a lot. For a long while, I was interested in Tile, a little plastic device that you can attach to anything—purse, luggage, bike, cat, keys—and that will track and allow you to find them when you can’t seem to remember where you last left them.

According to the Tile press kit, the idea for Tile was simple: a small, affordable device people could attach to the things they didn’t want to lose. It would send frequent, private signals to the owner’s smartphone and the Tile network so it could always be located.

hires_151006_tile_goingout_0460-edit

The original Tile shipped in June 2014. A little over two years later, we have sold 6 million Tiles and we help people and half a million items each day—a testament to the value of helping people keep track of the things that matter to them most. We’ve heard it all: A little girl found a lost stuffed penguin in Times Square. A guy was able to recover a stolen car in California. One lady found her cat hiding under the porch.

Sounds great.

From my perspective, I thought Tile was a bit pricey, but after losing my car keys (which I had never lost before), I decided to take the leap. I bought a box of four Tiles that retails for about $79. I had some sort of discount from American Express that brought the price down to about $40, or about $10 for each tile.

I put one tile on my cat and one on my keys. The other two are still sitting in the box.

2-0_ios_listview

So far, I’m not so impressed. Each individual tile links to a device, an iPad, an iPhone, etc. That’s great, but the Tile only communicates to that device when it’s nearby. So, if for example, you want to find the location of your lost luggage, you’d have to be within 150 feet and have the device to which the Tile is registered in order to “ping” the Tile. Otherwise, the tile shows up in the “last remembered place.” Which is not only often wrong, but covers a huge and grossly imprecise area. It’s sort of like… yeah, your keys, they’re somewhere in a 5 block radius of your house. To add insult to injury, Tile uses some kind of old school Bluetooth communication that EATS your iPhone battery. Weirdly, though the Tile is always attached to your device via Bluetooth, it doesn’t seem to update in real time. So, if for example, you, the Tile, and your device all move from one place to another, the Tile app will not reflect that until you “search” for an item, your device pings the Tile, and the location is updated. Worse, in some strange instances, even after pinging the Tile, the location remains at the last pinged location and not at the current location (even if you know it may be sitting right next to you.) So, neither the reliability nor the precision of the Tile device doesn’t seem all that great to me.

If you are looking for something and mark it “lost” this magically triggers a secret search among all Tile users and will relay the location of your missing item when it pings the device of someone else. In theory, this is great, but in practice, we had some real difficulty in making it work. Again, when we could get it to work (about 30% of the time), the “location” covered a HUGE area. Congratulations, we found your lost luggage! It’s somewhere at LAX! Again, insult to injury, it’s like knowing there’s  a needle in the haystack, but you still have to sort through the hay to find it.

I think that the Tile website is to blame for my general disappointment. The site doesn’t really (or very clearly) explain how the Tile system works. Somehow, I was left with the impression that it was some magic GPS device that could be tracked from anywhere. I’m not sure exactly what gave me that impression, but it sure was wrong. The Tile promotional literature is quite straightforward. For example, it notes, when marking an item as lost “It would send frequent, private signals to the owner’s smartphone and the Tile network so it could always be located.” It could be. Doesn’t say it will locate the Tile. So, my fault, for not catching that.

Tile claims that by pressing the “e” on the actual Tile that your phone will ring. We tried this with both active Tiles and couldn’t get it to work. Not once. Then oddly, I was driving in the car and for no particular reason (my keys and phone were sitting in the cup holder next to me), the “ring feature” triggered. Odd.

Overall, Tile seems to be a great idea. The problem is, the actual usability of it needs some refinement. At this point, I would recommend holding off on Tile. Like a lot of tech products from newish tech start ups, it’s marketed well, but doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

Talking Trees

What we don’t know is amazing…Using strands of fungi as a network, trees and plants communicate with one another and help each other to survive.

Plants can even ward off invaders through “Earth’s natural internet.”

Read the whole article at: Using strands of fungi as a network, trees and plants communicate with one another and help each other to survive. | Big Think

Plastc: I think it’s a scam.

I was out for a run this past week thinking about how much I dislike my iPhone clinking around in my pocket when I run. That made me think about Plastc, that I wrote about a year or so ago.

Plastc promised to be a one-stop card that stores all the information about your credit cards on one pseudo-card. As you select a different card, the magnetic stripe, NFC (near-field chip, the chip that allows you to “tap” rather than swipe your card), and EMV chip change to reflect that card. It’s a genius idea.

About three years ago, I gladly purchased a Plastc card, which was a kickstarter project and slated to ship a few months later. It never shipped, and the project has been plagued by one delay after another. I’ve eagerly been waiting for the card for more than three years, and check the website from time to time to see if there’s any update. About this time last year, the company announced a stunning delay of more than a year, and to compensate, offered a second card free of charge. They also changed from a card model to a subscription-based model.

So while I was running, it occurred to me: this is a SCAM. Here’s why:

  1. First, none of these technologies exists. There’s no way to “re-magnitize” a magnetic stripe on the fly; there’s no way to re-key an EMV chip on the fly. The NFC is able to change on the fly, which is what Apple Pay uses in your iPhone and Apple watch.
  2. Second, it cost Apple a fair amount to figure out this technology and then how to power it without draining your iPhone battery. Plastc is credit-card thin. There is no way that it can house a battery (again, because none has been developed yet) that thin that can power the card and the processor needed and still fit into a credit card thickness. Just not possible.
  3. Apple spent years and millions setting up security agreements and arrangements with banks and financial services companies to get Apple Pay up and running. Plastc is nowhere near as capitalized (or, apparently, motivated) and has nowhere near the clout to make that happen. CurrentC—a consortium of banks and retailers—wasn’t able to make it happen, nor was Google. So what makes anyone think that Plastc, as an undercapitalized Kickstarter project will be able to do it?

The fine print on the Plastc site says—essentially—this:

“Plastc card will be available to use across all participating locations and with all participating payments types following an over-the-air firmware update to enable Chip’n’Pin and contactless payments.”

Which essentially translates into: we’re going to send you a card that doesn’t do anything until we figure out how to make it work and until we can get everyone on board, which may never happen.

Moreover the FAQ on the site assert:

“You can cancel your order for a full refund anytime before your order ships. We do not offer a “trial” period once the card has been delivered.”

Which essentially translates into: we’re going to send you a “card” that doesn’t do anything until we figure out how to make it work, and you can’t return it once we send it to you, even if it doesn’t do what we promised (or implied) it would do.

Which further translates into: Dear Plastc, get ready for a whopping class-action suit.

Which further translates into: Dear Customer, Plastc is a broke kickstarter start-up, and you can’t get blood from a stone.

Back to the fine print that clearly states:

Product design and features may vary at the time of shipping.

Meaning:  Even though we promised you a credit card sized device no thicker than a credit card—and we showed you that on kickstarter and on our website—you could very well wind up with a device the size of a brick by the time we send it to you, if we send it to you at all.

All of which means: you’ve probably been scammed.

The latest update is that Plastc will ship in August–September 2016. My prediction: another delay will be announced and no cards will ship. However, I do predict the promised iPhone app will be released, and will have limited ability beyond what ApplePay already does. In the meanwhile, the developers behind Plastc will be laughing all the way to the bank.

We will see, but my guess is that all of us patient Plastc’ers are being taken for a ride.

Wi-Fi Calling on Verizon… is here.

Shockingly, Verizon released (or is testing) Wi-Fi calling on their network on the iPhone (I have a 6+) and I’m running iOS 9.3 Public Beta 7. So my guess is that it’s not yet available and that it’s being tested in this beta rollout.

The option is available under “Phone” (oddly, not under “Cellular”) in the Settings menu.

I set up Wi-Fi calling this morning, and made a test call and it works perfectly with no glitches.

After turning the toggle on, a pop up window up (clearly curated by Verizon) appears asking for an emergency contact address for 911 services and gives a variety of warnings about costs and 911 accessibility.

Once active to carrier changes from “Verizon” to “VZW Wi-Fi.”

It’s picked up (amazingly) on several Wi-Fi networks that I’ve been on today (at the Mercedes-Benz dealer and again later at Barnes & Noble.)

Way to go, Verizon… you’re definitely stepping it up lately!

image1.PNG

 

 

Searching. Browsing. Simple.

Duck Duck Go Logo

Today, I was at the gym, and I was getting dressed after a great run (on the treadmill), pulling on my Duck Duck Go t-shirt and I thought: “Wow, this t-shirt is pretty awesome, and it’s more than Google ever gave me!”

You see, I got the t-shirt free about a year ago (and it is an incredibly fine t-shirt) for telling friends about Duck Duck Go.

After the early years of using AOL (when content was pretty much delivered to your doorstep,) when I first started *really* using the interwebs, way back in the late 1990s, Yahoo! was my search engine of choice, because well, it was pretty much the *only* search engine. It was organized like a directory, with headings (like travel, food, sports, etc.) and underneath those headlines, were lists of links likely curated by humans who taxonomized and categorized similar sites under useful headings. The “search” was reasonably limited but Yahoo!, for several years was the leader.

Then AltaVista came on the scene, and worked in a completely different manner: You’d simply type words into a search box and boom, you were presented with a custom list based on your search. That was a big improvement.

Then Google stumbled on to the scene and has been my go-to for the past 15 years or so. It was easy, clean, and had cute graphics for obscure holidays and things.

The problem is, Google has become too integrated. After reading all my gmail, and monitoring my search history, it makes “useful” suggestions when I search. The problem is, well, that’s kind of creepy. I’m not quite ready to put on a tin foil hat, but if Google knows that much about me, maybe it’s time to move on.

Enter Duck Duck Go, the search engine that doesn’t track you.

Duck Duck Go is a great search engine. It’s simple. Works just like Google, and doesn’t track your information… and has a cute logo year round. You can take a tour of Duck Duck Go here. It’s ready to use on Safari and on Safari for iPhone and iPad, plus it’s fast! It’s way faster (in my experience) than Google. Maybe it’s because Duck Duck Go isn’t scouring my browser for information about me?

Give Duck Duck Go a shot and help the underdog company out. You won’t be sorry. I made the switch a year ago and I haven’t looked back. Now, if we could just get the good folks at Duck Duck Go to offer free e-mail…!

Slimming Down with Plastc

Part of living small is keeping unnecessary things—junk—to a minimum. For years, I have kept a small wallet, but it’s about to get a lot smaller. Plastc is a new all-in-one credit card that makes carrying multiple cards completely unnecessary. Plastc combines all of your cards onto one card and works with all of your current credit cards.

Plastc has a variable screen that locks the card, and updates as you use it, showing important information and details. The card also has a magnetic stripe and EMV chip which makes it compatible with every POS system around the world.

Best of all, Plastc keeps your wallet slim and makes life easier.

plastc_front_back

The ultra sleek Plastc card is currently in Pre-Order (cards begin shipping in April), and readers of SilverSlicker are eligible for $20 off a Plastc card!

Visit the Plastc website today to place your order!