Expanding your app-titude

A monthly look at apps and websites that can make the CPA’s job and life better.
By Greg LaFollette, CPA/CITP, CGMA

OK, I admit it. I misplace my keys all the time. My low-tech solution is the one that men have used for centuries—I ask my wife where they are. Luckily (for her and me), a high-tech alternative has emerged.


Tile is a Bluetooth gadget that helps locate your keys or any other item. Tile is reasonably priced and simple to use. You just hook it or stick it to things you might lose. Wallet gone missing? Just launch the Tile app, scroll down the list of your connected Tiles, and see where it was last logged. If you're close, just click and then listen for the chirping. (Note: It's not loud, so it's fine in your quiet living room but not so good in a crowded restaurant.) The inverse is also true. Have your keys but not your phone? Press the Tile's button, and your phone will ring. That's a nice feature, but it requires the app to be running in the background, so I much prefer the native "Find My iPhone" function.

Connecting—or pairing—the app with each Tile is simple: Press on the Tile and, when it chirps, it's in pairing mode. Find the new Tile in the app and click. Name your Tile—briefcase, wallet, keys, etc. That's it. The system now lists the time and location your Tile was last seen.

The system uses an ingenious form of crowdsourcing to help find lost items. When you mark an item as "lost" and someone using the Tile app happens by that lost item, their phone (or tablet) logs the location and notifies you via the app. Conversely, if someone else loses a Tiled item and your app "sees" it, the location is uploaded and the owner is notified. More than 6 million Tiles have been sold, so it's reasonable to assume a Tile might see and report your lost item. Everything is anonymous. You see only your Tiles. (You can connect eight Tiles to one account.) It's the magic of the cloud at work saving your sanity, one lost item at a time.

The good news is the app is free, and there's no recurring cost. The bad news is the devices aren't cheap. There are two models: traditional and slim. I use a few of each. The "Slim" is a few credit cards thick and works great in my wallet while the "Tile Mate" has a predrilled hole and works perfectly on my keys and gym bag. They are priced at around $25, with discounts for packages of four. More bad news—they last only about a year. The battery runs out, and you must "reTile." On the plus side, the company offers a nearly 50% discount in its reTile program.

Dozens of competitors are in this space, and, although Tile appears to be the market leader, other brands offer a similar experience. This is not an endorsement of Tile, but rather an explanation of a rapidly expanding product genre that's blurring the lines between the physical and digital worlds. The current crop of Tiles is version 2 and is a big improvement over the original units—smaller, louder, better connectivity, etc. Future versions will continue to improve at an ever-increasing rate. As trusted advisers, CPAs need to be able to recognize trends and anticipate their evolution. Think ahead to the world of 2025, when this type of sensor is tiny and automatically included in every manufactured item. Paired with the power of the cloud and Big Data, we'll know the location of everything, all the time. Hopefully, you're now thinking about how this would affect your clients' inventory management—or how it could change your inventory observation planning for future audits. I know my wife is hoping for the day she no longer has to answer the question, "Honey, where are my keys?"

  • Website: thetileapp.com
  • Operating systems: iOS, Android
  • Cost: App is free. Tile devices are about $25 each, with discounts when buying in packs of four. Replacement Tiles are needed annually and sell for 50% off.


We introduced you to Automatic in the May 2016 column. As you might recall, Automatic is an adapter that plugs into a vehicle's on-board diagnostic port and enables the monitoring of driving habits on your smartphone. Like Tile, this product is evolving rapidly with a new "Automatic Pro" version that significantly expands your vehicle's connectivity to the cloud and myriad companion apps. The original version (now marketed as "Automatic Lite") connected via Bluetooth when your paired phone was nearby. The Pro version adds a persistent cellular connection that vastly expands what it can do. For example, it can notify you when the car is started or turned off, show you exactly where it is in real time, and generate automatic crash alerts in case of an accident. While a few of these features may be a teenager's nightmare, their addition is indicative of the increasing rate of change. Why should you care? Consider your clients that have employees driving company vehicles. What do they know about their route drivers' driving style and the routes actually driven? This is a conversation a trusted adviser might well have with a client.

  • Website: automatic.com
  • Operating systems: iOS, Android, web
  • Cost: Pro, $129.95; Lite, $79.95. The app, service, and cell connection are free.

Greg LaFollette (greg.lafollette@hq.cpa.com) is a strategic adviser with CPA.com, the commercial subsidiary of the AICPA.

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