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Apple only recently announced its long-expected AirTags for smart tracking, but people are already finding innovative new uses for them – including sending them through the mail.
The AirTag’s small, coin-like shape allows it to be used in all sorts of scenarios, like keeping them in a laptop case or purse, or, well, pretty much anything else. Since they are designed to work at a distance, it wasn’t long before someone planned to try mailing one.
Blogger Kirk McElhearn decided to mail an AirTag in an envelope with first-class shipping from Stratford-upon-Avon to a friend in London and the experiment worked!
McElhearn was able to use the Find My app to check precisely where the envelope was at during stages of travel… as long as there was a nearby iOS device to ping off of.
It’s no surprise that it was easy to tell when the AirTag had reached a mailroom for sorting, loading, and eventually being sent to a processing center.
The Find My network that Apple depends on for tracking AirTags is quite reliable, as McElhearn was able to take screenshots of the Find My app charting the progression of the envelope.
It wasn’t tracking movement in true real-time – AirTags aren’t designed to do that, but it provided reliable updates about everywhere the AirTag had been, as simple things like truckers carrying iPhone would be enough for AirTags to get a ping.
It seems that the more iOS devices near the AirTags, the more frequently they can update as the location changes, especially if they aren’t moving too fast.
However, the experiment also showed that some AirTag features don’t seem to work so well. For example, AirTags are meant to be built with a safety feature, so if they are significantly separated from a registered owner for three days, then any iPhone user in the presence of the AirTag should get a notification that a lost AirTag is nearby, making it easier to find or notifying someone that they may have accidentally picked up someone else’s AirTag.
However, McElhearn found that this three-day feature did not seem to work with his friend at all, even though the AirTag kept updating the Find My app while left untouched in the envelope. It’s not clear when the three-day countdown begins or what might interfere with it, but this feature does not appear particularly useful for now.
AirTags are also supposed to play a chime to alert nearby people if it’s been lost for three days. However, other sources have stated that this chime only lasts for a short time and isn’t very loud, so if you’re watching TV or listening to music – or are just in a noisy area like a subway or café – you’re probably not going to hear it. Again, not especially useful.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot of valuable information to unpack here. While the “oops, I lost it” features of the AirTag don’t seem very dependable, it’s worth noting that the Tags function best when in an area with lots of iPhones and similar devices. That means they could also struggle to work well in rural areas with fewer people and devices around.