Apple’s long-rumored Bluetooth trackers, AirTags, are now officially here. Finally.
AirTags are little round tiles that look similar to backgammon pieces, but larger. You attach them to your keys, wallet, anything you’re afraid of losing. (Apple has its own accessories for that, too!) In the event you do lose something with an AirTag stuck to it, you’ll be able to recover it using the Find My app, like the way you’d find the last known location of your iPhone or MacBook. And like similar devices such as Tile and Samsung’s SmartTags, AirTags use Bluetooth connectivity to connect to your phone, plus they have a lengthy range in terms of how far they can be tracked.
If you lose an item that has an AirTag stuck to it but think it’s somewhere close by, you can use the Find My app to make the AirTag chime loudly so you can locate it easily. If you have an iPhone 11 or 12 with a built-in U1 chip, you can use those devices to more accurately pinpoint the AirTag’s location using what Apple calls Precision Finding, which guides you toward your lost item using a combination of sound, haptic feedback, and visual pointers.
If your AirTag is truly lost, you can still locate it using Lost Mode. A person who finds your AirTag can use a device with NFC (an iPhone or a capable Android phone) to tap the AirTag, which will then take them to a website with your contact number, if you’ve provided one. (You might want to do that.)
Apple’s Find My network can detect the Bluetooth signal from a lost AirTag and let you know where it is by pinging the millions and millions of Apple devices that are Find My enabled.
While these types of tracking devices are not exactly new, it could be beneficial for those who routinely misplace items, or if you’re someone who worries about having your device stolen. Although it’s probably better that you attach the AirTag to an accessory so it’s harder to remove it from a device. AirTags can be placed into a bag or pocket on its own, which seems like an easy way to accidentally lose them.
We’ve been hearing about AirTags since [checks notes] all the way back in 2019, but now that Apple has added third-party support for its Find My platform, it seems less likely that the company could be accused of attempting to kill competing trackers from Tile, Samsung, and other companies.
Like many devices these days, there are potentially some major privacy concerns with AirTags. If these AirTags can be attached or slipped into anything, then it’s feasible they can be tossed into side of a car’s glovebox or the inside of a purse to track a person. For individuals with abusive partners, AirTags could serve as a way to more tightly control that person.
This is not a new concern, either. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), at least 18 state legislatures prohibit installing a location-tracking device on a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent. Some of those states, like California, more broadly prohibit the use the tracking devices. Of course, people who are going to break the law will break the law.
Apple says it’s addressing those concerns by implementing safety features that allows users to not share their location with anyone, including Apple itself. Communication with the Find My network is end-to-end encrypted, Apple says, so only someone who owns the device has access to its location data. The AirTag Bluetooth signal identifiers are also rotated frequently to help prevent unwanted tracking.
Additionally, an AirTag that have been separated from its owner for an extended period of time will chime to alert anyone near by that it’s lost. In the case of a victim who is being tracked by their abuser who has placed an AirTag on them unknowingly, if the victim is able to hear the chime, and they have an iPhone or Android phone with NFC, they can disable the AirTag. But being able to cut their abuser off from every movement hinges on them being able to hear the chime, and the AirTag only chimes if it’s moved. (You’ll get a notification on your iPhone, but not one on Android.) Theoretically, someone could tape an AirTag underneath the driver’s seat of their victim’s car and the AirTag will never chime. I have concerns about whether the AirTag’s unwanted tracking features go far enough.
A single AirTag will cost you $29, while a four-pack of AirTags is $99, and will be available on April 30. Customers can place an order as soon as this Friday, April 23.
April 20, 2021, 7:42 p.m. ET: A previous version of this article incorrectly described the way in which users would be able to find misplaced and lost items with AirTags attached, as well as how the privacy and safety features worked. That information has been corrected and Gizmodo regrets the errors.