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With the unveiling of AirTags and Apple’s Find My Network earlier this year, it’s no surprise that iOS 15 is adding several improvements for locating everything from your keys and your bike to your iPhone, but it’s upping the game in a few interesting ways when it comes to your AirPods as well.
We already know that iOS 15 will let you track your iPhone even when it’s off, receive notifications when you leave items like AirTags behind, and let you more easily find your missing AirPods, but it looks like Apple’s headphones will be joining up with its Find My Network in more ways than one.
Apple has offered a Find My AirPods feature from almost the very beginning of its foray into the wireless earphone market, but it’s always been a weak counterpart to its more robust Find My iPhone feature.
For instance, even the latest version of iOS 14 only lets you locate your AirPods, AirPods, or even AirPods Max when they’re not in the case — and it only reports their location from the last time they were out of the case.
This means that if you leave your AirPods somewhere, you won’t necessarily be able to locate them unless you were actually using them at the time. As it stands now, the feature is completely useless for AirPods that simply fall out of your bag and remain in the case.
Of course, you can simply attach an AirTag to your AirPods, but fortunately, Apple has a better solution in the works in iOS 15, which will finally join your AirPods Pro and AirPods Max to the Find My Network, just like any other Find My Network device.
The catch here is that since none of Apple’s AirPods include a U1 chip, you won’t get full Precision Finding capabilities, but it does appear that Apple has cooked up some less precise version of the feature that should at least help you narrow down roughly where they are in your home or at the office or gym.
More importantly, AirPods will now broadcast their location via the Find My Network, which means that just like AirTags, other people’s iPhones will be able to pick them up and report in, so you’ll know where they are when you’ve dropped them or left them behind somewhere — even if you weren’t using them. You’ll even know if they end up somewhere else, like if you left them on a bus or in a cab, for example.
Locked to Your Apple ID
We probably should have seen this coming, but new code in iOS 15 reveals that your AirPods will also support another important Find My Network feature — they’ll be “pairing locked” to your Apple ID, just like AirTags.
Note that this isn’t quite like the iPhone’s Activation Lock feature. It won’t prevent somebody who finds your AirPods from setting them up and using them with their iPhone or other Bluetooth device, but it will prevent them from breaking the Find My Network association, so you’ll be able to track down their location as long as they’re within Bluetooth range of another iPhone or iPad.
The code for this new capability was spotted by 9to5Mac in the latest iOS 15 beta, including new animations that show how to reset them to remove them from the Find My Network.
While the AirPods Max simply involve holding down the noise cancellation button and the Digital Crown for about 12 seconds, the procedures for the AirPods Pro are considerably more odd. Since the earbuds don’t have actual buttons, users are instead prompted to hold their fingers over the speaker holes and press the button on the stems multiple times.
As with an AirTag, however, this won’t automatically remove the pairing lock — the owner has to disable that from their Find My app before the AirPods will be freed from their Apple ID.
In fact, the reset procedure is probably only necessary when the AirPods aren’t in range of the user’s own Find My app. Other Find My devices have their Pairing Lock status updated directly over Bluetooth when within range of the owner’s iPhone, so we assume it will be the same with AirPods. The reset procedure will be necessary if you forgot to remove your AirPods from Find My before you sold them or gave them away.
The new Find My Network capabilities will only be coming to the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, so it looks like the standard AirPods will be left out of the party.
In addition to iOS 15, your AirPods will likely require a firmware update to enable the feature on their side. While Apple released beta firmware for the AirPods Pro to developers last month, we’ve confirmed that the feature doesn’t yet appear to be operational in the current build, which was last seeded on July 30.