Summary:

Phone Halo, one of GigaOM’s Mobilize Product Showcase finalists, is set to launch its Button TrackR tag this month, letting you track your valuables on a smartphone. Next year its tags will come embedded in luggage.

Phone Halo Button TrackR
photo: Phone Halo

Phone Halo has come a long way since it introduced its first personal tracking tag in 2011. The Cobra Tag, built by Cobra Electronics and powered by Phone Halo’s TrackR technology, was a rather bulky key chain accessory that constantly drained its own and its paired smartphone’s batteries thanks to the power demands of Bluetooth.

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But then came the advent of Bluetooth Low Energy (also known as Bluetooth Smart), which allowed Phone Halo, and its numerous smart tag competitors, to introduce much more battery friendly devices. In 2012 it launched the Wallet TrackR, a smaller, cheaper device that could fit inside a billfold or on a key ring and most importantly could go more than a year without a battery change.

Now after raising $350,000 in an Indiegogo campaign, it’s preparing to launch the Button TrackR, a quarter-sized puck that can be stuck on any valuable you want to keep tabs on. Phone Halo is one of the eight finalists in GigaOM’s Product Showcase, and it will be giving a sneak peak of the new Button TrackR at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference next week. At the end of the month, it will begin shipping the first Buttons to its Indiegogo investors, co-founder and CEO Chris Herbert said.

Like its competitors Tile, Innova, Stick-N-Find and Linquet (a fellow Showcase finalist), Phone Halo is using Bluetooth LE as a proximity sensing technology. An app on your iPhone or Android device keeps tabs on the TrackR when it is in range and drops a pin on a map when it loses its signal. So you can hit a button on the phone to get your TrackR to emit a beep when it’s nearby, and if out of range you can place on map where you last left it. If you lose an item outright and it’s not in the last known location TrackR recorded, the app will begin coordinating with other TrackR users to detect your lost item, effectively crowdsourcing its location.

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What separates Phone Halo from the rest is its overall business strategy, Herbert said. While Phone Halo will continue to make stand-alone devices under the TrackR name, its larger plan is to become the behind-the-scenes tracking provider for a variety of consumer goods industries.

It’s no coincidence its first product was built by Cobra Electronics. As a small startup, Phone Halo doesn’t have the brand recognition or the distribution channels big consumer electronics can provide, Herbert said. Phone Halo has since been making a customized version of Wallet TrackR for Audiovox, called Insite, which is now being sold through Verizon and BestBuy stores. Given that Phone Halo recently joined carrier Orange’s accelerator program, we’ll probably soon see similar distribution deals for Phone Halo technology in Europe.

The idea is to license its technology to multiple vendors, but use the TrackR app as a central control hub for all objects you want to keep close, Herbert said. And TrackR isn’t stopping at stand-alone devices.

“It would be great if this technology was already embedded inside of your luggage, or embedded inside of your wallet,” Herbert said. We won’t have long to wait. While he wouldn’t reveal the specific customers, Herbert said the first items embedded with TrackR technology will emerge in February, starting with luggage and eventually making its way into wearable items.

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