Over the past two product cycles, Apple would prepare to unveil its Apple AirTags tracking devices that can help iPhone owners find their belongings with augmented reality.
Now it’s 2021 and AppleTags are nowhere to be found. But Samsung has skipped Apple with its own take on the product category.
At the Unpacked 2021 event on Thursday, where the star of the show was the new Galaxy S21 line of smartphones, Samsung also unveiled the new Galaxy SmartTags and SmartTags Plus. The connected devices are powered by enclosed coin-sized batteries that last “months” and are designed to attach to and track pet key rings, backpacks and collars.
Both devices use the SmartThings Find platform (similar to Apple’s Find My service) to find nearby items via Bluetooth. For items that are further away, SmartTags can anonymously connect to a network of Samsung devices to triangulate the location of the item, which is nothing like Amazon Sidewalk.
SmartTags Plus earns its name with an additional technology that brings AR to the detective experience. The Plus edition includes Ultra-Wideband (UWB) connectivity for greater location accuracy and directional orientation.
With this additional data, UWB-compatible devices (such as the Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy S21 +, Galaxy Note20 Ultra and Galaxy Z Fold2) can navigate to SmartTags Plus with AR finder. As with Live View on Google Maps, on-screen navigation instructions will guide users in the direction of their lost items.
The base model SmartTags will be available January 29 in four colors for $ 29.99 each, with discounted bulk packs (two for $ 49.99 and four for $ 84.99) coming at a later date. SmartTags Plus and its AR capabilities have no release date yet, just the dreaded “coming soon” announcement. When it comes to it, it has only two colors, an off-white and a greyish blue, and a slightly higher price tag at $ 39.99 (or two for $ 64.99).
Samsung is also planning an ecosystem of accessories for personalizing the devices. However, Samsung did not go into the details of the included coin-sized batteries, merely noted that they will last “months”. Is the battery replaceable or are SmartTags disposable? We asked Samsung and we’ll update if we hear anything.
AR viewfinder functionality has also been extended to Samsung’s new Digital Key platform, which uses UWB to unlock cars via smartphone. Armed with the same technology, Digital Key can help drivers find their car in a parking lot with AR. Samsung is working with car manufacturers Audi, BMW, Ford and Genesis to implement the system in their upcoming cars.
While Samsung typically follows Apple’s lead in new features and products, Samsung has actually entered the market with new AR hardware ahead of Apple. For example, Samsung has started adding depth sensors to its smartphones with the Samsung Galaxy S10 series, although the hardware has completely disappeared from the S21 series.
However, Apple has shown that when the is late at the party, at least it is fashionable late. Smartphones were boring devices for business people until the iPhone shook things up. PC makers notoriously flopped with Windows tablets until Apple arrived with the iPad. Now that Samsung has abandoned depth sensors, Apple has adopted them and innovated the dynamics of the tool with its approach, opting for LiDAR sensors for its implementation.
Will history repeat itself with Samsung’s early entry with SmartTags Plus and Apple’s delayed arrival of AirTags? We’ll have to wait, but if history is any indicator, Apple will take the time to get it right rather than rush it.