The Potential Value of Apple's AirTags

The Find My network means you don't have to be near the tags

Key Takeaways

  • Apple recently introduced the AirTag, an item that emits Bluetooth signals and noises to help find nearby items and that can be detected by devices on Apple’s Find My network.
  • Apple says it has built-in several privacy features to keep people from being tracked without knowing.
  • AirTags cost $29 each or $99 for a four-pack. They will be available on April 30.


An Apple AirTag on a suitcase handle.

Apple

Misplacing a valuable item like your keys or wallet is stressful, especially when you don’t know if it’s gone for good or deep inside a couch cushion or gym bag a few feet away. Apple aims to ease that stress with AirTags, which help locate everyday items.

Apple’s AirTag is the latest device tracker to hit the market, joining a range of styles from companies like Tile and Chipolo. The AirTag helps in finding your misplaced items, but also has a few cool features that iOS users will appreciate. 

AirTags use Apple’s Find My app on iPhones and Mac computers. However, one of AirTag’s most useful attributes is that it connects to Apple’s huge Find My network, which comprises nearly a billion devices that can detect Bluetooth signals from a lost AirTag and ping the owner with the location. 

"Crowdsourcing data like that is a brilliant solution to the problem," iOS developer and podcaster Guilherme Rambo told Lifewire in an email. He first reported that Apple was working on a Tile-like item tracker in 2019 for 9to5Mac.

"Others have tried similar approaches, but the sheer amount of Apple devices around makes it much more likely that a lost AirTag will come into contact with a nearby device that’s able to report its location back to the owner.”

How AirTags Find Your Stuff

AirTags provide several features to help you find misplaced items at home or track down valuables that may be lost elsewhere. If you left your keys in a pants pocket that wound up in the laundry hamper, you could open the Find My app on your iPhone and instruct the AirTag to play a sound to guide you to your closet. 

You also could use the “Precision Finding” mode, which guides iPhone 11 and 12 users to hone in on items within Bluetooth range using rotating arrows and a readout of how many feet away the AirTag is lurking. 

That level of detail is made possible by the U1 chips inside AirTags capable of Ultra-Wide Band technology.

AirTags also can use the Find My network to track down items further away from home. If you lose an item away from home and a nearby Apple device picks up the AirTag’s Bluetooth signals, you’ll receive an end-to-end encrypted notification containing the item’s location that nobody else will be able to access. 

Putting an AirTag in "Lost Mode" will allow both iOS and Android users to access contact information for the owner of a lost AirTag using near-field communication (NFC) technology.

Privacy Features

One of the main issues with tracking devices is potential privacy and safety concerns, including their use to keep tabs on another person without them knowing. However, Apple designed the AirTag with what it calls a "set of proactive features that discourage unwanted tracking, an industry first." 

Apple said in a press release that "Bluetooth signal identifiers transmitted by AirTag rotate frequently to prevent unwanted location tracking." iOS users will be notified if an unknown AirTag appears to start following them, and AirTags away from their owners for a long time will start playing a sound.

"...The sheer amount of Apple devices around makes it much more likely that a lost AirTag will come into contact with a nearby device that’s able to report its location back to the owner.”

"These measures certainly look to be effective for cautious users," Zhiqiang Lin, associate professor of computer science and engineering at The Ohio State University, told Lifewire in an email, though he adds that he's unsure how hard it is to hack AirTags at this time.

If there is any doubt about an unwanted AirTag nearby, people could also use Bluetooth scanner apps in Google Play and Apple’s App Store to show them, Lin says.

Rambo says the features are well thought out. "A device that’s meant to be used to track things will inevitably attract the attention of stalkers and other people who wish to use them for nefarious purposes, but Apple has done everything in their power to ensure that AirTags can’t be used for that," he added.

Are AirTags Worth It? 

At $29 for an AirTag or $99 for a four-pack, the price for AirTags is comparable to existing trackers like the $34.99 Tile Pro and $24 Tile Mate. Chipolo offers the $25 ONE tracker, and will soon offer a new model compatible with Apple’s Find My network. However, you’ll need to join a waitlist to get it.

An Apple AirTag above a hand holding and iPhone with the tracker active.

Apple

Rambo thinks that at this price point, it’s "hard to say no to AirTags" if you’re an iPhone user. "Of course there are other manufacturers offering similar products, but as is usual with Apple’s products, the integration with the whole ecosystem is unmatched."

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