The Next Mass-Adoption Tech Trend for Sporting Gadgets
Bear with me on this one. It will positively affect your sporting tech life, whether you own a Trek, Garmin, Fitbit, 4iiii or just a set of keys.
Here we are talking about the mechanism that has fallen in place to enable an existing technology to enable mass adoption.
Apple Find My
This new tech sounds totally UNsporty and it is an extension of Apple’s “Find My…” features. I think it will change the world albeit in a small and positive way.
This story starts with the Slovenian company Chipolo who I met with at the Wearables show in Excel (London) in 2016.
I first used Chipolo back in 2016. It’s a locating-disk and an app. You put the Chipolo disk on your keyring, bag or under your bike saddle…anywhere. When it comes within range of an active Chipolo app, anyone’s Chipolo app, then the location of that link-up is logged on the net for those with permission to see.
You can perhaps then imagine an infrastructure that helps you find lost stuff based around that.
Chipolo kinda worked and I still have one or two. However, there are restrictions on how it works
- Chipolo disks cost money, which is an inhibitor to adoption – $25 from Amazon is not cheap.
- The network relies on a large network of other Chipolo users pinging your device frequently
- The Chipolo retail product is the size of a large coin so that format won’t fit into your smartwatch, although you could fasten it under your bike’s seat or put one on your car.
- Chipolo has a map to help you get its location at a macro level and emits noise to help you find things on a close-up level. Think about a noisy train station to imagine some further issues.
However, a coin-sized device WILL be appropriately sized for a high-value item like a bike power meter. Indeed gplama covered 4iiii’s integration of Chipolo’s tech over two years ago and I think he tried to track the air shipment of one of the devices over the Qantas network but I never followed up reading the results as I imagined that not enough baggage handlers would have the app on their phones. Of course, the real piece of electronics inside Chipolo’s waterproof plastic shell is smaller and can no doubt be made MUCH smaller as tech progresses.
I guess the problem here is that Chipolo might have the vision to take over the world and be on everyone’s phones but that probably isn’t going to happen. As of 2021, they claim to have sold over 2 million devices.
Moving on to the Apple Watch 6 from 2020.
Whilst reviewers talked about the new optical HR sensor, the always-on screen and many other trivialities, what few of them talked about in any detail was the new UWB chip. The UWB chip is not yet used by the AW6 as far as I know. This is strange as clearly, Apple didn’t include that on a whim.
Rumours soon surfaced of an Apple AirTag device, which is probably highly similar to a Chipolo in many respects. Obviously, Apple has plans that include taking over what Chipolo has already started. My understanding of how UWB works is that it has directional abilities to locate nearby objects and so will be ideal for finding that tag on the set of keys you always lose, perhaps better than Bluetooth.
So there we have Phase 1 for 2021. A very uninspiring mechanism for Apple to replace what Chipolo started 5 years ago.
You’re not very excited about that as you’re thinking of your Garmin, or your car, or your Trek or whatever brought you here from my enticing title to this article. Something a little more exciting than phoning your keys to make them ring in the bathroom.
Bear with me…
Apple Find My…
Apple’s inbuilt Find My app/service is nothing new. You’ve been able to find your kids, your phone and your friends for quite some time. But what is new today is that Apple has announced they are opening up “Find My” to third party compatible Bluetooth devices* via the Find My network accessory program, itself part of the Made for iPhone (MFi) Program. Initial third-party products that support this are these:
- Belkin’s Soundform Freedom True Wireless Earbuds,
- Chipolo One Spot item finder, and
- VanMoof S3 and X3 e-bikes
Clearly, Apple chose these 3 launch partners VERY carefully. Chipolo demonstrates that Apple wants to link to their existing, large network. VanMoof demonstrates compatibility with large movable eco devices and Belkin demonstrates compatibility with stuff you might lose around the house.
The difference between the Find My network and Chipolo’s network is that Apple’s Find My is installed on nearly half of all modern smartphones. ie 100s of millions of devices vs. Chipolo’s 2 million.
* The press release did say Bluetooth devices
What Next For Sport? How will Sport use Find My?
If you are buying a $1000 bike then the unit cost to the manufacturer of integrating a chip to support “Find My” is going to be tiny. $5 tops.
Similarly, a tweak to a Bluetooth chip inside a Garmin or Fitbit might also cost very little from a hardware point of view.
As a ballpark figure, perhaps anything costing over $200 can easily justify compatibility with Find Me
My opinion is that this mechanism will eventually supersede what has already been implemented by device manufacturers like Wahoo, Strava and Garmin (Live Track, Group Track). Even though the frequency of data points will be far less, the sheer overlap of use-cases will favour an Apple-Chipolo solution (Chipolo also covering Android)
The competing network will be Fitbit (Google) + Tile.
Race organisers could perhaps more easily set up public positional broadcasting points effectively handing over race-day tracking to third parties, allowing them to focus on core aspects of race timing and dissemination of results.
The benefits and usages here are VERY wide-ranging, including these:
- All you need is some form of tag on your body for your bike ride. If you go to a coffee shop it is certain that someone there will have an Apple iPhone that can ping your location back home. No need for you to buy that expensive new LTE tech
- Even better. There’s bound to be someone on your group ride that has brought their iPhone and they can frequently ping your location back home for your partner to track you without you having to worry about breaking your iPhone if you crash.
- A tag probably weighs a gram or two, so not much extra weight to carry. Or no extra weight to carry if the tech is already integrated into your Garmin watch. When you go to the start of your running race eg UK parkrun, I am CERTAIN that someone else at the start line (or finish line) will have an iPhone to kindly ping your location back home.
- Group rides or any kind of group event now has the potential to be better organised and not require that everyone has an expensive iPhone. They just have to have a compatible chip on either their body or equipment. If a member of your group waits in a car park, a lay-by, museum foyer or wherever they are going to have their location pinged back to the rest of the group.
- Perhaps even the unwitting street mugger might foolishly have this enabled as they mug you. Your tag and their tag plus the time and location are simultaneously pinged to the police station tagged with an alert flag.
- It makes sense to make this tech an integral part of many expensive items simply as a deterrent against theft. If the chip has been disabled it could warn a buyer of used goods that the item may be stolen, hence making them less desirable to steal in the first place.
In a nutshell: this will make finding & protecting both stuff and people much easier.
On the downside, we’re going to soon get into the civil liberties vs ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’ brigade. Yet, my understanding is that Apple (obviously) has designed this tech to protect your privacy. I’m not sure how Apple’s designs will stop a stalker putting a chip into someone’s coat pocket nor stop an over-zealous parent tracking their child by a similar means once the child has figured out how to make their iPhone location private and to stop you tracking that.