The ultra-wideband radio for short distance directional search is missing
Apple requires an extra step for pairing
The Chipolo One Spot allows you to keep track of your belongings on Apple’s Find My network.
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The Chipolo One Spot offers highly accurate location tracking using Apple’s crowdsourced Find My network. It’s almost as good as Apple’s AirTag in some ways and better for others. Chipolo provides a viable alternative in the small category of tiny, low-power, and long-lasting trackers.
It’s a brilliant feat by a much smaller company than the multi-trillion-dollar Cupertino giant. Apple licensed access to its Find My network makes this possible, although the company may have done so under duress.
Find my integration
Apple’s AirTag introduced a new degree of functionality to an existing category of devices: a low-power Bluetooth-based location tracker that could help you find lost, forgotten or stolen items that have been attached or embedded to, such as in a backpack, bag or car.
The AirTag is based on Apple’s Find My Network, a crowdsourcing system that allows hundreds of millions of iPhones, iPads, and Macs to transmit encrypted Bluetooth transmission by expensive hardware and AirTags. Tile and Chipolo had previously released similar trackers, but rely on the Tile or Chipolo user network to achieve ubiquity. Apple had scale.
Apple offers Find My for both what it calls “devices” and “objects”. A device is an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Watch and some Apple and Beats earbuds and headphones. Any device can determine its location directly (via satellite, cellular, and Wi-Fi with an iPhone) or via a nearby paired device (such as with AirPods Pro from a firmware update that was part of iOS 15.1 / iPadOS 15.1). Devices that can’t reach the Internet to post location updates will broadcast a Find My network signal to nearby devices instead.
The AirTag and the Chipolo One Spot are both “objects”. This category only transmits its encrypted Bluetooth ID. Nothing Find My can connect directly to the Internet, but it can talk to a paired iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth if within range. A Find My item requires its paired device or a nearby iPhone, iPad, or Mac that has the Find My network activated to broadcast its location.
Apple designed the Find My Network for security and privacy. Both devices and elements that use it only transmit a randomly generated Bluetooth identifier that only the owner of the device can actually decrypt. This ID changes at intervals to avoid providing a persistent identity that someone else could track. Nearby forwarding devices register the Bluetooth signal, associate it with location information from one or more sources, then upload an encrypted packet of Bluetooth ID and location to Apple.
In a Find My app native to iOS, iPadOS, or macOS, the owner of a Find My item can see the current location provided by a relay. The native app is required because the encryption keys needed to retrieve tracking packets from Apple and decrypt location information are only stored on users’ devices – Apple doesn’t have access to them.
Tile and apple I’m in an ongoing fight on Apple’s control of its ecosystem, but Chipolo decided to unite instead of fight. The Chipolo One Spot shows that a third party can compete with Apple on its territory. This is strategic on Apple’s part, but it still means you have a choice, and one that’s slightly cheaper than Apple’s and has a keychain hole to boot.
Chipolo One Spot knows where it is
The Chipolo One Spot has a lot in common with the AirTag. Both are the only pure trackers that can use the Find My network. Apple announced three licensees of the Find My network in April, and those remain the only ones: the other two are Belkin for its Soundform Freedom wireless earbuds and VanMoof, which incorporates Find My into ebikes.
The One Spot is a 1.25-inch diameter and 0.25-inch thick flat black disc with IPX5 water resistance. It uses a standard lithium-ion coin cell battery which should last about a year and is easy to replace. Although it makes its trackers not Find Mine in other colors, black is your only choice with One Spot. The company logo is lightly engraved and has a slight sheen. A keyring hole is above the logo.
With no external signs, the single point easily avoids being … spotted. In fact, my 14-year-old son stuck one to his noise-canceling headphones to avoid losing them if they were lost at school. The matte black finish blends almost perfectly with the ear cups of the headphones.
Pairing a One Spot requires slightly more effort than an AirTag. In the Find My app on iOS or iPadOS, tap the + (plus) sign in any view and tap Add More Item. Press the center of One Spot to press an internal button and activate its discoverability. iOS / iPadOS recognizes the tracker and guides you through pairing, including naming and assigning an emoji if you wish.
Once paired, One Spot appears in the Elements view in the Find My app on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. Due to device-based encryption used with the Find My network, you cannot use the Find My iPhone web app on iCloud.com for One Spot or any of the Find My items.
Chipolo decided to put a powerful sound generation system inside the slim One Spot package, just like his trackers don’t Find Mine. Chipolo says it reaches 120 decibels (dB), or the level of a plane taking off; Apple does not disclose this specification. In tests with an iPhone-based meter, the One Spot spent most of its time near 80dB and reached a peak of 85dB, or between vacuum and lawn mower territory, while an AirTag was largely in the range. ‘area of 65dB with a series of short peaks around 85dB.
Still, the One Spot’s more consistent volume was surprising – its slightly taller and decidedly more annoying model seems to grab more attention than the more polite AirTag.
Anyone who has paired a Chipolo with their iPhone or iPad can activate it to play a noise if it is nearby. They can also mark it as lost, nearby or not, allowing them to provide more contact information to those who find it. They can also set their iOS or iPadOS device to notify them if they leave the tracker and computer, bag, or something else important with it.
Two omitted radios make two tasks more difficult
The company has left out two things found in an AirTag: an ultra-wideband (UWB) radio for short-range precision search, and an NFC transceiver for near-access or tap-to-access capabilities. UWB in an AirTag works with a dozen feet or so, making it useful for finding a missing item that isn’t obvious; I don’t notice his absence from one point.
NFC in an AirTag allows Apple to offer tap-to-link functionality on an iPhone or any device with an NFC reader – the AirTag has a built-in URL that uses an encrypted path to refer to its internal serial number. That URL links to additional information if someone finds an AirTag. However, someone needs to know that an AirTag works this way to try it out.
With a Chipolo, someone who finds a One Spot can only identify it from an iPhone or iPad using a long series of steps:
Launch Find My.
Tap the Articles icon.
Scroll down to reveal the Identity Found item.
Select One Spot when it appears, click Continue and follow the instructions for more information.
That’s a lot to ask, but anyone who found a One Spot would have apparently searched online for what a “Chipolo” was and find those passages, just as they might identify an AirTag and look for its details.
Chipolo has to follow Apple’s rules for the Find My network, as Apple handles all of the data flow. This includes all the anti-tracking techniques that Apple has incorporated into the system.If an iPhone or iPad notices that the same device is traveling with it for a period of time, it triggers a notification. That iPhone or iPad can then play a sound on One Spot. (Apple promised an Android app later in 2021 that would also track objects traveling with someone, and the year is almost over.)
According to Apple’s rules, the Chipolo tracker also produces loud sound at intervals starting 8 to 24 hours after being separated from the paired device as a way to make sure it cannot be used as a silent stalker.
Why choose a Chipolo One Spot instead of AirTag?
Apple’s AirTag is a great piece of technology, but it has a very distinctive design. If you want a small item that’s silver on one side and shiny plastic on the other and doesn’t have a keychain hole, it might do the job. Apple includes engraving on the white side of the AirTag at no extra cost, not an option for a One Spot at all.
But if you want a flat matte black drive that can be attached to a keychain without the additional expense or hassle of a holder, and that makes a very loud noise while remaining discreet for those who might try to grab your stuff, the Chipolo One Spot is a great choice.