Apple Find My vs. Google Find My Device: There's a Clear Winner So Far

Apple Find My vs. Google Find My Device: There's a Clear Winner So Far

Google recently expanded and improved its 11-year old Find My Device network, previously known as Android Device Manager, to help you find Android phones, tablets, Wear OS devices like the Pixel Watch, supported headphones and, of course, Bluetooth trackers such as Chipolo’s One Point.

Apple’s Find My network has been around since 2010 and can currently find Apple products like the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and AirTags, plus third-party devices compatible with the network like Nomad’s Tracking Card.

But how do the networks compare in 2024? To find out, I took the Chipolo One Point and an AirTag to Pier 39, the most popular tourist destination in San Francisco. Then, CNET’s John Kim hid the trackers outside of Bluetooth range and I had to locate them using the Find My app on an iPhone 14 Pro and Find My Device on a Google Pixel 8 Pro. Here’s how it went.

Watch this: Apple’s Find My vs. Android’s Find My Device Network

How Find My and Find My Device work

Both Apple and Google’s systems use an encrypted, crowdsourced network of other phones and devices running iOS or Android to help find lost items. They each let you: 

  • See an item’s current and last known locations on a map
  • Play a sound to find an item if it’s nearby (if supported by the device)
  • Share items such as Bluetooth trackers with a friend so they can also see the location

Setting up Bluetooth trackers on each network is very easy. Bring them close to your phone and a pop-up appears. With Chipolo’s One Point, you’ll need to press down once on the tracker to get it to register with Android and trigger the Fast Pair pop-up.

Google's Find My Device feature on web Google's Find My Device feature on web

The Find My Device web interface lets you show location information on a map.

Abrar Al-Heeti/Viva Tung/CNET

How Find My and Find My Device differ

Apple’s Find My network has a slight leg-up since it got overhauled in 2021 to support finding third-party items and in preparation for the launch of the AirTag. Compare that to Google’s Find My Device, which got similar support for third-party devices and trackers earlier this year.

At this time, Find My Device trackers only support Bluetooth, while Apple’s AirTags use both Bluetooth and ultra wideband. This is the technology that helps pinpoint a precise location and shows distance indicators with direction assistance in the Find My app.

Apple’s AirTags also have separation alerts, called Notify When Left Behind. Select this option from the Find My app and you’ll get a notification when you leave something behind, outside of Bluetooth range.

Apple’s Find My network only needs a single iPhone or iOS device, connected to the internet, to pass by to locate a lost item. If a Find My device isn’t connected to the internet and crosses a lost item, the item’s location is encrypted and passed on from Find My device to Find My device until it gets to one that is connected, like an iPhone.

Google’s Find My Device settings are set to “with network in high-traffic areas only” as default. This means the network needs multiple Android devices to pass by to detect an item’s location and only then shows you a center point triangulated from these location reports.

However, you can go to Security > Find My Device > Find your offline devices and change that to with network in all areas. That can help find other people’s items in lower traffic areas and only needs one other Android device to locate an item, similar to Apple’s Find My. Android’s official Find My Device help page says, “users who turn on this option help each other find items in both higher-traffic and lower-traffic areas. This option may help you find your lost items more quickly.”

For the purposes of this experiment, I left all settings on default to see what would happen.

Android phone with the Device finders setting open. In the background is a map from Google's Find My Device service. Android phone with the Device finders setting open. In the background is a map from Google's Find My Device service.

Jeff Carlson/CNET

Which tracker did I find first?

Once the AirTag and Chipolo tracker were “misplaced” together somewhere in Pier 39, I loaded up the apps on the iPhone and Pixel 8 Pro and marked each as lost, then started a timer. Just four minutes and forty five seconds into the challenge, I got the first notification from Apple’s Find My. Five minutes later, I got another ping locating the AirTag.

I waited 30 minutes to see if Google’s network would find the tracker, but I didn’t get any notifications. I could, however, see an approximate location of the Chipolo tag on a map in the Find My Device app. Confusingly, the network was able to triangulate an approximate location, but it never notified me that the tracker was found.

Then I went in search of the trackers using each app’s built-in location tools. Apple’s Find My gave me walking directions to the AirTag on a map, so I could see it was only a few minutes away. Google’s Find My Device was less helpful and only showed me a map view, without any directions.

Once I got within Bluetooth range, the AirTag let me bring up precise tracking options using ultra wideband so I could move the phone around and have an arrow point me in the right direction with distance markers. By contrast the Chipolo tracker has a shape that “fills in” as you get closer to an item.

Google and Apple Find My Google and Apple Find My

The Chipolo tracker has a shape that fills in (left) while the AirTag has specific distance information, thanks to ultra wideband.

Screenshot by Lexy Savvides/CNET

I knew I was close, but I still couldn’t see them, so I played a sound on each. The AirTag was pretty faint, but I could hear the Chipolo even in the loud surrounds of Pier 39. 

So the ultra wideband directions helped me get closer to the AirTag when I couldn’t see it, but the loud sound of the Chipolo made a big difference in finding the tracker.

Apple’s Find My network is more robust, for now

My highly unscientific test showed that Apple’s Find My network helped locate my lost item much faster than Google’s Find My Device network. I’d expect this to improve over time as the network continues to roll out across Android devices, particularly if more users opt-in to locating items in all areas. Adding ultra wideband support to Android’s trackers would also level out the playing field — many Android phones already have an ultra wideband chip.

I look forward to revisiting this challenge in a couple of months to see how Google’s Find My Device improves, especially once more devices jump on the network.

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