I've found some top tech to help find my tech - or keys, or cat…

During the recent Prime Day sales, I snagged me some Tiles. These handy little items help me find my keys, my phone or whatever else I don't want to lose - and they're nice and accessible too.

Giving your things a Bluetooth boostPhoto of a white Tile Mate

Tracking your things using Bluetooth tiles isn't a new thing - just new to me – but I wanted to flag just how useful and how accessible they are. 

So what are these handy tracking devices? They're basically a little Bluetooth-enabled tag that can play some snazzy, bleepy music if pinged by your phone or smartspeaker. Imagine a jumbo Scrabble tile around 3cm square and just under 1cm thick with a hole in one corner, making it easy to connect to a bag or bunch of keys. They're also pretty water resistant so you could attach it to a pet's collar too. Alternatively, pop it in your purse, handback or laptop case. They're so light that they'd add no weight to whatever it is you attach them to.

The one I went for was a Tile Mate - usually costing £19.99 each but, for Prime Day, they were going for around £40 for a pack of four. This particular model includes a replacable battery which lasts around a year - but you can get cheaper, slightly slimmer, ones that would need replacing when their battery runs out.

How does it work?

After setting up your new Tiles (and please note that there are some unlabelled controls in the Tile app* - but blind users should note that it's not a showstopper) and giving each one a name (such as 'Car keys' or 'Purse'), it's then a simple matter of opening the Tile app on your phone or tablet and tapping the Tile you want to ring and it, er, will. 

If that sounds like too much effort, then you can also ask Siri to find your purse or cat or keys etc. Don’t even want to reach for your phone? Then you can also set up Alexa to do the same using the Tile skill; "Alexa, ask Tile to find my wallet."

You can also do the reverse. You can double-click the Tile logo on the tag and it will ring your phone - even if it's switched to silent. Similarly, you can say, "Alexa, ask Tile to ring my phone."

Extending the bounds of Bluetooth - with the help of strangers

"That's all very well and snazzy," I hear you say, "but Bluetooth can only connect over a few tens of metres at best. What if my lost stuff is further away?" 

It's true that Bluetooth range is very limited. Great for finding your things when lost around the house or garden, but if you've dropped your keys when out and about then Bluetooth is not going to help in the slightest … without the assistance of helpful, crowd-sourced and completely oblivious strangers.

Opening my Tile app, it says that there are 522 other people with Tiles in my immediate area. It doesn't show me where or who they are, but what it does tell me is that their phones are ready to spot my dropped keys or missing cat and report it back to me - even though I'm nowhere near my Tiles attached to those lost items and even though those helpful strangers are not aware of passing near them either. This is because, just as the Tile app on my phone periodically pings my Tiles to keep track of where they are, the ever-vigilant apps on the phones of the entire Tile community likewise spot mine. I guess that means that my phone is also sending out regular pings to spot other people's Tiles too - but that's fine by me. It's all part of the service.

If we assume that there's nothing unique about where I live (although it does have a very nice castle), then there's every chance that  there's a similar number of Tile users everywhere - including the area where you live. Thus we've a very good chance of finding our lost items wherever they are – so long as any one of them passes near enough to pick up your Tile's persistent Bluetooth signal. 

Of course, there's every likelihood that someone will still pick up your purse or keys if they've been dropped in a visible place like a path or parking space, trusty tag or no - but the Tile community should continue to track your stuff as its carried away. You may not get your money back if it's a purse or wallet you've lost (although you may - you never know), but you may stand a much higher chance of retrieving your cards after your purse has been tossed in the bushes. Oh, and I'm definitely not recommending confronting a purse thief in his or her house - that might be a little risky - but, assuming that they don't live too far from passing Tile users (or indeed know what that funny little tag is and get rid of it quick), your Tile would still give away its location even when they arrive home - and you could at least then consider your best next move.

Finding it easier with some Tiles

As I say, these handy gizmos for finding your things aren't new - but for anyone whose wondering whether they work, if they're worth the price tag, or if the apps associated with them are accessible, I'm happy to report that (with the odd exception of an unlabelled control in the Tile app) I personally think they are.

For someone like myself who can't see, being able to easily locate things around the house is extremely handy. Something only needs to be millimetres out of reach and it might as well be anywhere. Similarly, if you drop something out and about and it bounces away a little, then you're looking at an indefinite length of time poking around with your foot or hunkering down and feeling about with your hands in the hope that you’ll eventually locate it.

I’m planning on tagging my hold baggage next time we fly. Finding it on the carousel should then be easier - infinitely easier when you can’t see.

There’s so many uses for these handy tags. For orientation, for example I use the Tile attached to my back door keys to find the back door. Strange as that may seem to someone who can see, if you're in the garden on a nice summer's day (the likes of which we've had plenty in recent weeks), then getting back to the back door of your house when you're a bit turned-around in your garden is not always straightforward. Siri can activate the tag attached to the keys that hang inside my back door and, in the unlikely event that I don't have my phone on me, I can also call to the Echo that's just inside the back door on the kitchen counter. A nice little electronic tune tells me exactly where the door (and indeed the house) is and I can make my way there without ending up in a bush after guessing a random direction to try. 

Photo of a bench in a park

I'm also contemplating secreting some Tiles around town. For example, there's a bench in our local park that I'd like to make use of from time to time - y'know, just like anyone else is able to if the fancy should take them. When you're pottering along the path through the park (and  hoping not to bump into anyone coming the other way who doesn't twig that you're blind), keeping an ear out for your guide dog whose nearby (having a whale of a time with other dogs and probably finding all sorts of unhealthy things to eat) and finally feeling like a bit of a sit down to enjoy the sunshine, there's no way of knowing the precise point when you're passing a nice, comfy bench (that just happens to be set back slightly from the path and hence subject to that 'A millimetre might as well be a mile' rule mentioned above). A quick command to Siri and the Tile would ring and, voila! Nice sit down. Just as I've relied on the basic goodness of people over the years to help me with getting money out of ATMs (here's my card and this is my PIN, can you get a hundred pounds out for me please?), I'd have to trust that no one in the vicinity, after hearing the musical bench), would want to investigate it after I'd gone. Heck, they wouldn't even need to wait till I'd gone. 

They'd be bound to find my secret Tile cunningly affixed to the underside, wouldn't they? But hang on - for reasons we've covered above - if they did then I'd still be able to relentlessly track them down thanks to the Tile community's unstinting vigilance. And if you're wondering how a blind person can make use of a very visual map to find the culprit, I'm pleased to confirm that the app also provides a helpful address if the Tile's location is in someone's home or business. So, even as a blind person, I'd be able to swoop in, confront them, and heroically retrieve my Tile. Or maybe I'd just give it up as well and truly pinched and resolve to hide it more cunningly next time. Yes, much more likely the latter - hence I'm still contemplating this very useful but risky option of Tiling things around town.

Got a great use for your Tiles?

Are you forever losing your stuff? Have you got a suitcase that looks like everyone else’s? Do you plan on tagging your children at Disneyland?

If you’ve got some suitable scenarios to suggest, or a particularly perfect purpose for your tracking tag, please do let me know via @USA2DAY or, if you don't do Twitter, drop me a line and I'll update this post with your feedback.

* I've been in contact with the team at Tile about the unlabelled buttons and their response was, in effect, that they'd get around to the arduous task of labelling them when they're good and ready and not a minute before.