The Apple AirTag is an item tracker that can be attached to objects like backpacks or keychains. They use the Find My ecosystem to ping nearby Apple devices when in lost mode so users can locate them.
● Custom emoji engravings
● Precision Finding
● Private and secure network
● $29 for one
● $99 for a pack of 4
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Apple introduced the long-awaited AirTag at the "Spring Loaded" event in April 2021. The new devices are meant to aid users in tracking objects that otherwise have no smart features, like backpacks and keys. Use the Ultra Wideband chip in the latest iPhones to find your lost devices with precision accuracy.
Apple initially introduced Ultra Wideband to increase the accuracy of AirDrop by offering a direction-based method to share content. This technology uses triangulation and motion to determine what where nearby devices are. Apple calls the chip for Ultra Wideband the U1 chip.
An update in iOS 13 combined the Find My Friends and Find My iPhone apps into one app called "Find My." This app enables you to find whatever you're looking for, be it friends, family, devices, or third-party trackers. With the release of AirTag, you'll be able to find those with Find My as well.
AirTag works offline and pings nearby Apple devices to mark its location online. With over 1.5 billion active Apple device users, there are very few locations on earth where you won't be able to ping a lost device.
Users can also place AirTag into Lost Mode and be notified when it is in range or has been located by the vast Find My network. If someone finds a lost AirTag, they can tap it using their iPhone or any NFC-capable device and be taken to a website that will display a contact phone number for the owner if they have provided one.
AirTag is designed with the same privacy and security found in Find My. No location data or location history is stored inside the device. Communication with the Find My network is end-to-end encrypted. Only the owner has access to location data, and no one, including Apple, knows the identity or location of any device that helped find it.
Apple has implemented a feature in iOS 14.5 to prevent bad actors from hiding trackers on a person. If the iPhone detects a device using the Find My network following the person around, perhaps in a backpack or vehicle, the iPhone will alert the user of the tracker. If it is your tracker, then you can dismiss the notification.
Using the AirTag
AirTag owners can add information like their phone number and name to the device optionally. Otherwise, any AirTag placed into lost mode will notify the owner when found by the Find My network.
Users will need to be within Bluetooth range, so about 15 to 30 feet away, to user Precision Tracking. Otherwise, it will be up to the Find My network to ping the lost AirTag and update the owner of its location. Because of this, Apple doesn't recommend customers track living things that can move around on their own, like pets or children.
If a child wanders outside of the Precision Tracking range with an AirTag attached, it reduces its usefulness significantly. The parent would have to place it in lost mode and begin searching for the child in the hopes that it comes into range or is pinged by the Find My network.
Instead, Apple recommends getting the child an Apple Watch with GPS and Family Setup. This way, the child can be tracked no matter where they go, as long as it's not inside a cave without a satellite signal.
Pets have a similar problem. While attaching an AirTag to a pet's collar sounds like a good idea in practice, it would only help find them while inside the home network. If they ran away and got picked up by someone, the person finding the pet would need to have an updated iPhone or iPad nearby to ping the Find My network. Even if they had an Android device to tap the AirTag for more information, they'd have to know that it was a capability in the first place.
We loved the minimalist design and tiny form factor of the AirTag. It does the exact job it was designed for and does it well — finding lost things.
The major caveat with the AirTag is you need some kind of keychain or pouch to place it in. There is no built-in attachment mechanism, though they are mildly magnetic.
The 0.39-ounce AirTag weighs about as much as two quarters and is about the same size too. It is 1.26-inches in diameter.
The small size is thanks to its form-over-function design. There isn't a keychain, loop, or cord in its minimal design, which prevents us from giving this a perfect five-star review.
In a somewhat surprising yet necessary decision, Apple has made the battery replaceable in the AirTag. The CR2032 coin cell is common enough to find at any local supermarket.
We like that the audio is loud and un-ignorable when the AirTag is making itself known. This sound not only helps find the device quickly, but it also helps alert people to unknown trackers on their person.
Remove the plastic tab from the AirTag, and it is ready to pair and use. Pairing it is similar to the process for paring AirPods.
After it is paired, users can associate it with the type of item it is being attached to, give it a custom name, and change the emoji for the Find My icon.
Finding a lost AirTag
AirTag can only help you when it can ping the Find My network. That means if you've lost something in a remote field or parking lot, you may be on your own.
Luckily all isn't lost. You'll be able to see the last location the AirTag was seen by a device, and that will get you within yards of the tiny device. From there, you'll be able to circle closer to it until the iPhone alerts you that it has detected the tracker's signal.
There are pros and cons to this method of finding items. Apple can tell you via GPS where your AirTag was last seen, but depending on the device's signal reporting the location, you could be searching a half-mile radius.
It is undoubtedly better than having no idea where to search, but this isn't as accurate as a satellite-tracked pet collar or car theft prevention system. Once you've found yourself within a few yards of the AirTag, Precision Finding will kick in.
When using an older iPhone without the U1, or if you live in one of 16 countries where Ultra Wideband isn't allowed in consumer devices, AirTag finding falls back to Bluetooth. That means you'll get within 15 feet of the AirTag and have to listen for its sound to locate it.
Errors and other issues
- No way to set metric values for Precision Finding
- Low light situations will ask for the flashlight — inexplicably
- Multi-level finding is inconsistent
- AirTag cannot be shared with a family
The AirTag will cost $39 for a single device. A pack of four is available for $99. Customers can engrave their AirTag with four text characters or select from a handful of emoji.
Lucky customers may find in-store stock, but engravings can only be applied when purchased directly from Apple online. AirTags officially launched on April 30, 2021.