Complete Guide to AirTags | All of Your Questions Answered (from Privacy Concerns to How They Work and More)
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Last week, I lost my keys and decided to try AirTags for myself. For such small and relatively low-cost items, they sure generate a lot of questions. So if you’re still on the fence about buying AirTags for yourself or have a few questions, keep reading for all the answers you’ll need. If your question isn’t answered, let us know in the comments.
Purchasing an AirTag
According to a recent iMore poll, 75% of voters said they have—or plan to get—at least one AirTag. iMore also references another poll from SellCell that found 60% of iPhone users have plans to purchase Apple’s item tracker. So it’s kind of a hot item.
AirTags are still fairly new, so if you try ordering them online, you might experience a bit of a wait. Luckily, most Apple Stores have them in stock now. Of course, if you want to get it custom engraved, you’ll need to order online and wait a few weeks.
If you choose to go to the Apple Store, keep in mind most locations are still taking some pretty serious COVID-19 prevention measures (I found this out when I accidentally bypassed the line and was abruptly stopped by two security guards).
- Order online for free engraving.
- Online ordering currently takes about 4–5 weeks.
- You can purchase in an Apple Store today at many locations.
- Use Apple’s website or the Apple Store App to check availability and shipping times.
Apple and third-party accessories are already available on Apple’s Website and in stores. Apple’s own offerings aren’t cheap. I picked up a Leather Key Ring, which was more than the AirTag itself.
That said, they are very high quality, and as the AirTag doesn’t have any way to attach itself on its own, you will need to purchase some kind of accessory (unless you just plan on throwing it in your purse or bag).
Keep in mind, sometimes Apple favors form over function. The AirTag Leather Key Ring looks great, but the ring itself is quite large. It would be great for attaching to a bag or using with keys that go in a purse; but, for me, it made my car key too bulky to keep in my pocket. I switched out the ring for a standard-sized one and now it fits great.
While there is a small selection of what’s available now (especially if you don’t include the overpriced Hermès tags), there is no doubt that more accessories will become available from other companies as time goes on.
- Accessories are available from Apple and third parties.
- Hermès accessories come with a custom AirTag.
- More accessories will become available over time.
As AirTag is an item tracker, concerns have been raised about how they could be used to track people without their knowledge. Of course, item trackers have been around for years; but, with the world’s largest company now making them, this was sure to come up.
Luckily, Apple has taken some steps to make people aware if they’re being tracked. But there’s only so much they can do, although it can be argued that it’s doing more than other companies have prior to them.
If you are an iPhone user, your iPhone will alert you if you have an AirTag with you that’s not yours. Of course, this would defeat the purpose if you were, say, a thief. So, it only alerts you when you arrive at a “significant location,” such as your home or workplace.
If you arrive at a frequented location and there is an unknown AirTag with you—and the owner of that tag is not around—you will receive an alert on your iPhone letting you choose to disable it, or giving you information on how to reunite the tag with its owner (if it were, say, an item left in your car by accident).
If you don’t have an iPhone, the AirTag will eventually emit an alert tone to let someone know they have a tag with them. Although AirTags don’t work with Android devices, you can use the NFC reader in an Android device to get information about the AirTag.
Some people have expressed concerns about being able to disable an AirTag quickly. Keep in mind, you can just throw it away. But, if you want to disable it, simply remove the battery.
- Apple has been proactive in its approach to privacy concerns.
- AirTags are designed with end-to-end encryption and dynamic Bluetooth identifiers.
- If you arrive at a significant location with an AirTag that isn’t yours, you will receive an alert via iPhone.
- An audible alert will sound after some time to alert non-iPhone users of a displaced AirTag.
- AirTags are easy to disable or discard.
One thing to keep in mind is that AirTags are not GPS trackers. Instead, they use technology such as Bluetooth and the U1 chip to connect to other Apple devices to broadcast their location. They are not updated consistently as this would drain the battery too quickly. So instead, they ping devices they come in contact with from time to time, to update their location.
In general, it looks like location updates are made every few minutes. The times may vary depending on what devices are nearby and whether or not the AirTag senses physical movement using its built-in accelerometer.
Apple devices that AirTags can ping are part of what Apple calls its “Find My network.” The Find My network keeps everything anonymous and is limited to where there are supported Apple devices that are connected to the internet. You can use the Find My app to find a variety of devices, such as your iPhone or iPad; but, you can also find non-cellular devices such as Macs, third-party supported items, and, of course, AirTags.
To ensure privacy and safety, AirTags use end-to-end encryption and change their Bluetooth identifiers “frequently.” On its support page, Apple states “No one, including Apple, knows the location or identity of any of the participating users or devices who help locate a missing AirTag.”
- AirTags are not GPS trackers. They use Apple’s “Find My network.”
- The Find My network is made up of Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads.
- Location is updated sporadically based on devices in the area and physical movement of the AirTag (detected using an accelerometer).
- AirTags use Bluetooth to ping Find My networked devices.
Can I Use AirTags with Android?
In short, no. You cannot use an Android device to locate your items with AirTags. However, you can still help return a lost item that has an AirTag on it. If your device has an NFC reader, simply scan the tracker as you would any other NFC device and your device will bring you to a website with information on how to return the lost AirTag.
If the AirTag is not marked as lost, the page will walk you through how to disable the AirTag.
- You can see if an item is lost and directions on how to get it back to the owner if your Android device has NFC.
- You cannot set up or use an AirTag with Android at this point.
- If an AirTag isn’t marked as lost, you will see information on how to disable it.
What’s Are the Main Differences Between AirTags and Tile Trackers?
Another popular tracking tag called Tile has been around for a few years now. Both devices work pretty much the same. Apple’s AirTags manage to cram more technology into a smaller space, while maintaining a minimalistic design. In addition, AirTags feature Apple’s U1 chip, which lets you locate the tag more precisely once you are at the location of the tag (more on that in a bit).
On the other hand, Tile has multiple form factors, such as a credit card-shaped tracker that fits in a wallet, making it easier to track a variety of items.
That being said, third-party trackers are allowed in the Find My app; it’s possible Tile will choose to upgrade their devices to work with the Find My app as well. This would give users a lot more choices when it comes to form factor and pricing.
- Tile and other trackers exist. They do not feature Apple’s U1 chip and are not (yet) part of the Find My network.
- Chipolo ONE Spot—another tracker—will work with Apple’s Find My Network and will be available soon.
What Is the U1 Chip and Why Is It Important?
Apple’s U1 chip uses Ultra Wideband technology so that a U1-enabled device (such as an iPhone 12 or 11) can know where other U1 items are in relation to them. This includes direction and distance.
With AirTags, iPhone utilizes the U1’s capabilities to point you in the right direction of the item. It also lets you know how many feet away your item is. In our testing, this proved to be highly reliable and accurate; however, there was one test where the item was on the floor above us and the phone thought we were in the right area. It’s not perfect, but in all of our other tests it worked flawlessly.
- The U1 chip provides spatial awareness, letting devices know where they are located in relation to one another.
- Your iPhone can tell you how many feet away—and in what direction—your AirTag is.
- Highly accurate and reliable, but not perfect. In one test, the item was on a different floor. We were still able to locate the item.
When Will I Know If I’m Being Tracked?
When it comes to AirTags, privacy and tracking have been a major concern for some. This isn’t surprising since it was actually Apple that brought these concerns into the spotlight. I kind of have to applaud Apple for this one. They were proactive in concerns to privacy—we weren’t really talking about this when Tile and Samsung brought out their item trackers. But it’s still a concern and it’s great that Apple has taken steps to help protect people.
If you use an iPhone, you will be alerted if an AirTag is with you that isn’t yours. This appears to happen once you reach a significant location, such as your home. So keep in mind, someone who is trying to locate you may find you, but you’ll know that you were tracked. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. Hopefully Apple finds a way to make this a little more useful in the future.
When it comes to people who don’t have an Apple device on their person, it becomes harder for Apple to notify you of an unwanted tracker. After some time, the tag will emit noise to make its presence known.
- Apple has taken a proactive approach to keep people safe.
- iPhone users will receive an alert if they have a tracker with them that is not theirs; but, it seems like it usually kicks in once you arrive at home or another significant location.
- Eventually, an AirTag that has parted ways with its owner will make a sound to let someone know it’s there.
A Step in the Right Direction
While it’s not 100% perfect, for a first-generation product it’s amazing. It blows other trackers out of the water and has a big focus on privacy and safety. In time, and with the addition of third-party support for the Find My network, users should have a large, versatile variety of what they can track.
Learn More About AirTags
- Can I Use an AirTag on My Checked Luggage?
- Can You Use Apple’s AirTags with Older iPhones?
- How Apple’s AirTag Compares to the Tile Mate and Samsung Smart Tag
- Planning to Buy AirTags? 5 Reasons You Should (and 3 You Shouldn’t)
- How to Reset an Apple AirTag
What features and changes would you like to see in AirTags 2? Let us know in the comments and on social media. Thanks for reading!