How It Works: Smart Tracking Tags
Need a little help finding your keys, wallet, phone, or bag? You should probably get a smart tag.
The purpose of a finder tag is to help you find your misplaced things quickly and easily. You can attach the tracker to the things you lose the most and connect it to your phone through Bluetooth.
Tracking tags have become incredibly popular in recent years and it’s no surprise – who doesn’t own a set of keys or a smartphone and loses them at least once a week?
What is a tracking tag?
In essence, it’s a small key chain (or card) with some hardware and a battery inside that uses your phone’s technology to help you find your lost keys or wallet.
For example, when you can’t find your car keys, you don’t actually have to look for them around your home; you can just tap on your phone screen and the smart tracker attached to them will start to ring.
Smart finders are usually found in two different formats:
- Keychain style tracker that you can attach to your keys or bag
- Credit card style tracker that you can insert in your wallet or stick to your TV remote
How do finder tags work?
The basic function of all Bluetooth trackers is to make the finder ring from your phone. So no matter what finder you choose, you’ll be able to make it ring to find your lost keys.
This is the second most common feature, which the majority of smart tags have.
One thing to point out here is that tracking tags do not connect directly to your phone but use an app to do so. The app can either be a custom one, created by the Bluetooth finder company or one already in your phone by default.
Either way, the app must stay active on your phone, even when you are not actively using it, to stay connected to your key or wallet tracker.
To bypass the limited connection range of Bluetooth (it can only go up to a few hundred feet), most apps leverage the power of their community to help users find their missing things when they are lost and out of range.
You can mark your tracking smart tag as lost in the app and anonymously alert other users that you are looking for your things. If one of the other users comes close enough to connect to your finder, you get a notification about its new location.
Community searches are a great idea, but in practice may only work if there are enough users and the area is densely populated. For example, if you lost your keys hiking, what are the chances that another user with the same tracking tag as you will be nearby anytime soon?
Some tracking finders have additional features, designed to make your lost keys and wallet even easier to find.
For example, you can use voice commands on Google, Alexa or Siri, you can share your tracker virtually with another user to double the finding power or even get a notification when you leave something attached to your tracking tag behind, so you can go back and get it.
Basic smart tag features
Every tracker needs a power source to keep the hardware inside it going. Most smart tags use a standard coin battery that you can replace once it runs out. Some offer a rechargeable battery, but this does shorten their run time and they need to be charged more often.
Generally speaking, tracking tags with replaceable and non-replaceable batteries will last between 1 and 2 years. Smart finders with rechargeable batteries last between 1 to 3 months.
Bluetooth trackers use the Bluetooth signal on your phone to connect, so their connection range is limited to Bluetooth’s range.
Good tag finders will be able to stay connected for up to 200 – 300 feet (60 – 90 meters) outside, where there are no obstacles like walls. Indoors, a good smart tracker will hold a steady connection for up to 150 feet (45 meters).
Once out of connection range, the app on your phone will show the last known location where the smart tag was last connected on a map until it’s back in range and can connect with your phone again.
If your Bluetooth tracker is out of range and you think it might be lost, you can mark it as lost in the app. This will send out an anonymous alert to all other users to help you search for it.
How does the technology in a Bluetooth tag work?
Bluetooth trackers like Samsung Galaxy SmartTags and the (still rumored) Apple AirTags save their battery by using the technology inside your phone to provide location data and other relevant information.
The Bluetooth connection is primarily used to stay connected, make your misplaced things ring from your phone or to help you find your phone.
Because Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is set up to use little power to sustain the connection, both your phone and the smart tag use only a little of your phone’s battery and the battery inside the tracking tag (you should be able to keep it active for up to 2 years with a single coin battery).
Each Bluetooth tracking tag has a unique signature to ensure only the owner can connect to the tracker and see its relevant information, unless they decide to share it with their family or friends.