Apple today published and quickly deleted a support video that included mention of its rumored "AirTags" location tracking devices. The gaffe comes following a statement made yesterday by Tile saying that Apple's anti-competitive behavior has gotten, "worse, not better," since January when the company told lawmakers Apple was thwarting it in anticipation of launching its own competitive offering.
The now-deleted video features a shot of the Find My iPhone section in the Settings menu of an iPhone, and a new option to "Enable Offline Finding." The description for the option reads, "Offline finding enables this device and AirTags to be found when not connected to Wi-Fi or cellular."
Tile argues Apple has handicapped it with its decision to block apps from tracking location in the background. If you haven't opened Tile's app recently and it isn't running, it can't tell you when your Tiles are out of range. One big selling point of Tile is that it's supposed to alert you when you accidentally leave something behind. For example, if you were to step out of a restaurant and leave your purse with a Tile card in it on the table, Tile is supposed to notify you accordingly.
Protecting users from themselves, and the competition — Right now, Tile effectively can't alert users when they leave their devices behind, which is something of a key feature of its recent hardware. Apple said after the January hearing that it would reinstate the option for users to grant an app persistent access to background tracking... but hasn't done so yet.
Apple's argument for restricting tracking has always been couched in terms of privacy. The company argues it wants to regularly remind users when an app is potentially using their location data so they can be sure it's not for dubious purposes. It's true that other companies (like, ahem, Google) perform plenty of data collection and tracking that's difficult for the average person to understand, and Apple always aims to prevent data collection that isn't intuitive...
...but the evidence against Apple that this is an instance of anticompetitive behavior — and not privacy protection — is damning. Apple carried Tile's trackers in its stores until last year. It doesn't anymore. And the rumor that it's been working on its own equivalent have now been confirmed.
The monopoly argument — AirTags are poised to be more sophisticated than Tiles because Apple's Find My app is preinstalled on hundreds of millions of devices, meaning anyone who comes in range of an AirTag marked as missing could help its owner find it. Tile trackers have the same functionality, but Tile has sold "20 million" devices while Apple's sold, well, a few more iPhones than that. Tile, we fear, is going to have to hope Android users can keep sales ticking over.
Apple has a history of "sherlocking" apps developed for its platforms — cloning them or adding their key features to its operating systems. Independent developers, meanwhile, have to spend money on marketing and hope people download their apps from the App Store — where, of course, Apple takes a 30% cut of (almost every) sale.