It weighs in at just 11 grams, is 31.9mm in diameter and 8mm thick – introducing the Apple AirTag. Rumoured for several years now, finally this week the company confirmed they were jumping into the item locating business with their own bit of gadget goodness.
Easily the smallest thing you can buy with an Apple logo on it, a Single Airtag also costs $45 and a pack of four $149. Not outrageous by any measure, but in true Apple style not the cheapest on the market, and no doubt the competition will come down in price as the new war on locating your lost items commences.
This isn’t a new market. Tile has owned this space in Australia for years, and there are others, but let’s just use Tile as the pioneering name in this space. One of their little square trackers will set you back $40, and four of them just over $100, so there’s a real value proposition there.
Plus, Tile devices have a hole built in for your existing keyring to go through. Apple AirTag does not.
That perhaps would be the primary criticism of the device. You need to pay more ($19+) for a keyring holder for the AirTag, or a small strap to attach it to your bag. Heck, if you’ve run out of things to spend money on, you can pay $400+ for a Hermes version. Madness, but stylish madness.
Apple’s huge advantage with AirTag over and above Tile, or Chipolo or whoever you name is the size of the search party. Let me explain the basics here.
How does an Apple AirTag Work?
You take the AirTag out of the box, remove the plastic protection layer which also removes the small tab that separates the battery from the electronics, kicking it into gear and at that time the AirTag gets to work.
Once paired with your phone (more on that soon), the AirTag is constantly emitting a low energy Bluetooth Signal.
That signal is “heard” or “seen” by any Apple Device running the latest software – from iPhones, to iPads and Macs.
If you’ve lost your “thing”, and it has an AirTag attached, any single Apple Device that comes within the range (lets call it 10-20m) of your AirTag will see it, and report it’s location back.
Apple doesn’t see that location, nor does the person walking by. But next time you open the Find My app, you’ll see the last known location, and the time at which it was seen.
If the item is in your local area, let’s say it’s in the next room at home, when you press “Find” in the Find My app, you’ll get a general distance, then a green screen with a white arrow, literally pointing to the item. It’s ridiculously powerful, and blows anything Tile has done on this front out of the water. Sorry Tile.
How do you setup an AirTag?
Again, in true Apple style, this is a breeze. If you’ve ever setup a HomePod, or set of Apple or Beats headphones, the pop up notice you get will be familiar. A small white box in the lower half of your iPhone notifying you that an AirTag is nearby ready to be setup.
Follow the prompts, give it a name, and an icon, and it’s yours.
From this point on, when you open the Find My app, you’ll see the location on a map.
When you lose an AirTag – what happens?
You search, high, low, under, over, inside, outside.
Then you head into the Find My App, and you click FIND, if the Tag is in your area, say the next room, as outlined above, you can use the Arrow on screen to locate it.
If it’s not with you, you can enable “Lost Mode”. When doing this, you can optionally include a phone number so that if someone finds the item, they can contact you.
When in lost mode, every Apple device on the planet becomes part of your search party. If someone walks past it, and their phone picks up the signal from your AirTag, you will receive a notification of an updated location.
If they actually see and find the item, and pick it up, any mobile phone with an NFC reader can be tapped onto the AirTag and a popup will send them to a webpage which will show the serial number of the item, and if the owner left a number, that will be shown to you to call them up!
Can an AirTag be used to Track someone?
In theory, yes. But it would be a very very dumb Idea. Here’s why. Apple has thought this through.
Let’s go to the extreme, because that’s where the clickbait haters will go. Your Ex Partner is “tracking you”. So at some stage they put an AirTag in your back, backpack, purse.
Because you also have an iPhone, the tag is able to share an updated location with the owner of the item.
So, in theory, they can see where you are on a map. But, when that person gets home, or after a long period of time, they will receive a notification on their phone that “Your current location can be seen by the owner of this AirTag”.
Opening that notification, opens Find My, and shows that the tag, and in my case also the Apple ID of its owner, is detected “near” you. This doesn’t happen for a one off – it happens if the AirTag is “near” you for an extended period of time. It will also tell you at what time it was first seen with you.
As the person who it has been placed with, you can see a map of where you’ve been with it, and where it was placed.
You then have the option of getting instructions to disable the tag, and of course, you can make your own decisions about what actions you might take with the owner of the AirTag. Given in my testing the Apple ID of the owner was shown (to my son who was a willing participant in this trial), there could be some recourse for the person who was “tracked”. I’m going to need more testing to confirm this, but it’s my understanding the Apple ID does show in all situations, given in this case the person being tracked was in my Apple Family Sharing Unit, that is an identifier of who’s tag it is. For a “random” person, this would not appear.
Of course, I can already see my son’s location in Find My Friends as we share locations also – so using an AirTag would be futile, and end up with useless notifications.
However, it proves the point that a “random” person cannot “track” you without you being made aware of it.
It’s an extreme situation, and one unlikely to be ever used given the transparency of the Tag and the way it makes these notifications.
Is it too small to have around kids?
Some might worry about the size of the item, especially around young kids.
It uses what we know as “button” batteries. The standard flat CR2032 batteries like a 10c piece.
It’s very low risk. A 10c piece would be higher risk, but it is small. So if you have the littlest of little ones, then avoid leaving them around. But in a keychain or other AirTag holder they are no risk.
Can Apple see my location?
No, Neither Apple, or anyone who finds your AirTag can see your location. Apple also cannot see the location of the AirTag itself, the location data is end to end encrypted, so only visible to the Apple ID account owner who setup the tag.
Will the Apple AirTag take off?
Yes, in a big way. This is a sleek little unit, it works exactly as it should. It’s very very easy to setup and the range of accessories already make it easy to attach to a range of things.
They will sell, like, hotcakes!
I’m off to order a few, sorry Tile – its me, not you.