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Although Apple’s AirTags are basically iPhone accessories, Apple recognizes that not everybody who finds your AirTag will necessarily be toting an iPhone. As a result, it’s designed in such a way that Android users can also scan an AirTag to help reunite the tag — and whatever it’s attached to — to its rightful owner.
It turns out, however, that this feature isn’t just for Android devices. Since AirTags use standard NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, they can technically communicate this information to any device that contains an NFC chip — provided the device in question knows what to do with that information.
Apple isn’t doing anything particularly fancy with the AirTag’s NFC transmitter, however — it actually just broadcasts a link to “found.apple.com” with parameters that provide the ID of the specific AirTag. This opens in whatever browser is installed on the scanning device, where the information on the serial number and owner of the AirTag is provided by Apple’s servers.
This means that even when you put an AirTag in “Lost Mode” details that you provide such as an email or phone number aren’t stored directly on the AirTag; they’re kept on Apple’s servers, and the AirTag simply offers up a direct link to where that information can be found.
So, there’s really no reason why any NFC-capable device that can open a web page shouldn’t be able to scan an AirTag and report its serial number and any owner-provided contact information.
Will It Work?
With that in mind, YouTuber Niles Mitchell of Will It Work? set out to try scanning an AirTag with a couple of less typical mobile devices; A Nintendo Wii U and a 2015-era Windows 10 Mobile phone.
Mitchell is known for trying all sorts of fun and eclectic technology combos on his YouTube channel, and we’ve recently seen some awesome projects like turning an iPhone into a vintage DOS gaming PC and using a retro 1977 Atari joystick as an iPhone game controller. With the recent addition of external drive support in the iOS Files app, he’s also successfully hooked up an Iomega Zip drive and a vintage 1986 Apple Mac hard drive to an iPhone.
Compared to these and several other crazy combos that Mitchell has tried, scanning an AirTag seems like small potatoes, but not only is this something that’s interesting to explore, but it has more practical real-world applications. Can somebody with an older Windows Phone or Nintendo Wii U figure out what to do if they find your AirTag?
It made me wonder, is Android the only other type of device that can scan one of these and get that information?Niles Mitchell
Mitchell first tried his AirTag against a Nintendo Wii U, which has an NFC scanner in it for amiibo figures used to unlock game features, plus a user-accessible web browser. Mitchell hoped that scanning the AirTag would open up the web page just like it does on an Android phone.
Unfortunately, since Nintendo designed this NFC scanner to work exclusively with amiibo figures, the Wii U doesn’t know what to do with an AirTag. As Mitchell notes, the NFC scanner on the Wii U doesn’t even fire up except when you’re in a game that offers the option for pairing up an amiibo figure. When the AirTag was placed nearby, it recognized an NFC device, but refused to do anything else with it, responding with “The device you used is not an amiibo figure.”
It does detect the NFC chip, but it’s only going to work with amiibos, It’s not going to do anything else. So that was probably just wishful thinking on my part.Niles Mitchell
Mitchell had considerably better luck with his Windows 10 phone, however — a 2015 Lumia 950 that, to his surprise, actually includes an NFC reader.
After placing the AirTag around the back of the Lumia 950, the Windows phone almost immediately popped up a dialog noting that “Someone is sharing a website from apple.com with you,” and prompting the user to either accept or ignore the request.
Tapping accept immediately opens the found.apple.com webpage, with the same “About this AirTag” page displayed that you would see on an iPhone or Android device.
So, if you’re still rocking a Windows 10 Mobile phone that has an NFC reader in it, you can also help return a lost AirTag to someone. Pretty neat, really. It just worked perfectly.Niles Mitchell
Since this content comes from Apple’s servers, of course, it doesn’t really need anything more than a browser that’s capable of rendering a fairly basic webpage, but as Mitchell demonstrated with the Wii U, it’s still important that the device in question knows how to read a URL from an NFC tag and open it in a browser. This is something that we would expect most mobile phones and other general-purpose devices to be capable of, but it’s going to be trickier with purpose-built NFC solutions like this found on gaming devices and point-of-sale systems.