Apple’s AirTag keeps tabs on kids, dogs and even your keys

Review: it won’t work with every phone - you’ll need at the very least an iPhone 6s, and for Precision Finding , an iPhone 11 or newer

The AirTag is the Bluetooth tracker you probably didn’t realise you needed.

Product name: Apple AirTag

Price: €35.0

Where to buy: www.apple.com

Website: www.apple.com

Thu, Apr 29, 2021, 17:38

   

Apple isn’t the first company to bring a bluetooth tag to the market, but, as the company has shown in the past, being first isn’t what counts.

After all, Apple wasn’t the first to the smartphone market, but it would be hard to argue that the iPhone was anything but a roaring success for the company.

Likewise, Apple has launched everything from a streaming music service and smartwatches to a studio fitness app in recent years. Being first isn’t important; doing it well is key.

Launch

Last week saw the launch of Apple’s AirTags, adding to the company’s Find My ecosystem, and providing Apple users with a more convenient way of keep tabs on their keys, bag, dog or even small children. It’s a market that has a couple of rivals already established, including Tile and Chipolo, with the former tying up partnerships with the likes of Skullcandy, HP, Bose and Fitbit to add their headphones, laptops and fitness trackers to the list of devices that can be found through the Tile app.

The AirTag works in a similar way as the Tile. The device is about the same size as a large button, and is typically Apple in appearance. One side is white, and can be customised in the Apple Store with an emoji or up to four characters; the other is stainless steel, with an Apple logo.

You can pop it into a pocket or wallet, or buy one of the optional keyring holders and loops, and attach it to your keys, bag or almost any item you can think of.

Setting it up is easy. Once you’ve taken it out of the box, you simply pull the tab out and bring the AirTag close to your phone. You will need to make sure you have at least iOS 14.5 on your device though; that brings in support for the tag and adds the Items tab on your Find My app.

Once your phone detects the tag, it will pop up on the screen, similar to the AirPods set up. You tap Connect, name the AirTag, and then register it to your Apple ID.

Useful

It uses bluetooth low energy to connect to your iOS device, so there’s no noticeable battery drain while using the device.

If you lose your item, simply go to the Find My app, look under items and select your AirTag. You can then see its last location and play a sound to help you track it down. If it’s out of range, you can mark it as lost, and add a message for whoever finds it. That will only be enabled once your iPhone is out of range.

The AirTag has several things going in its favour. The most important is the vast “Find My” network that Apple has established. If you have an iPhone or iPad, there’s a reasonably high chance that you have enabled the service so you can track down your own Apple devices; that network will also help you find your missing tag.

It’s also easier to track down than some other tags. While the Tile is quite useful in that it beeps until you find it, the AirTag also works with the U1 chip in certain iPhone models to guide you to the lost item, determining direction and distance, giving you audible and haptic feedback as well as the visual cues. That also works with accessibility features such as VoiceOver, making AirTag suitable for people who are visually impaired.

You can also follow the sound, of course, and the AirTag is impressively loud at times.

It is IP67 rated, so it will stand up to a shower or two. It also survived being chewed by a dribbling one year old – in a key holder, incidentally, so there was no danger of it being swallowed.

There is no charging to remember; the battery is replaceable and it uses a comon CR2032 coin cell battery that should last around a year.

Although AirTag has been designed to work with Apple products, it doesn’t completely exclude Android. If you find a lost tag you can tap it to the back of your phone, and if it has “lost” mode enabled, the accompanying message will pop up on the screen via a web link.

That assumes your Android phone has NFC – most do, as the chip is also used for contactless payments – and that it is turned on. As the contact details come through a web link, you will also need to have internet access. And most importantly, it will also need people to be aware that they can actually scan it with their Android device.

You aren’t relying on people to scan the tags though. Like Tile, all it requires is for someone with Find My active on their iPhone to pass close to the AirTag and it will ping its location back to your app.

Features

Like all technology of this type, there are privacy concerns. Apple has made it clear the tag is for tracking devices not people, with rotating bluetooth identifiers to further protect your privacy. But the Apple system has a number of extra features to make sure that your privacy is protected as much as possible.

If you are responsible for finding an AirTag, either by passing close to a missing device or by scanning the tag itself, your location data is not revealed to the owner of the tag. In the case of the former, it happens in the background and people may be unaware that they have just helped someone find their lost item.

If you are an AirTag owner, it might be reassuring to know there is no location data stored in the tag, so if someone finds it, it can’t be used to track you down beyond the “lost mode” message you attach to it.

Likewise, if someone tries to slip a tag into your bag or pocket, your iPhone will detect the presence of an AirTag that isn’t registered to your account and alert you. You’ll be able to force it to play a sound and track it down.

That last one is a double edged sword though. While it protects people from being unwittingly tagged, it also alerts potential thieves to the presence of the tracker. If you attach it to a bike, for example, all a thief would have to do is remove it and toss it.

One feature the AirTag doesn’t have that Tile and Chipolo offer is the ability to use the tag to find your phone. There are no buttons to press on the tag, so the communication is essentially one-way. But you can log on to Find My on another device and track down your phone that way.

The good:

Easy to here, the AirTag provides you with a few options to find your lost item. The haptic feedback is particularly useful, and if your item is out of range, having the Find My network at your disposal means the chance of finding your item is quite good.

The ability to read the tags with an Android NFC enabled phone is also good, opening the system up further.

The not so good:

You’ll need an optional holder to attach the device to keys, which would be the primary function here. Also, AirTags won’t work with every phone - you’ll need at the very least an iPhone 6s, and for Precision Finding with the U1 chip, an iPhone 11 or newer.

The rest:

Apple’s privacy focus continues with the AirTag; the alert for an unknown tag will ensure you can’t carry one around with you without eventually being alerted.

The verdict

The AirTag is the Bluetooth tracker you probably didn’t realise you needed.