Almost a year after it quietly revealed the new initiative at WWDC 2020, Apple has now officially announced its Find My network, with an update to the Find My app that will allow users to keep track of their other belongings in addition to their Apple devices.
To be fair, we’ve known this one was coming for a while, although we weren’t entirely sure how Apple would go about making the announcement. In fact, the entire process has been something of an enigma wrapped up in a question mark.
Really, it all began almost exactly two years ago, with rumours of a mysterious new Apple product that would eventually come to be known as AirTags. The very first iOS 13 betas also contained evidence of these Tile-like item tracking tags, but as time wore on, we all began wondering when they were going to make their appearance.
So, it came as a surprise when Apple unveiled the Find My network last June, inviting third-party hardware makers like Tile to integrate into Apple’s own Find My app in a way that we’d originally believed would be exclusive to the AirTags.
Meanwhile, AirTags remained something heard only in whispers, while new Find My Items screens were discovered in iOS 14 betas last fall. Last month, however, Apple took the wraps off these screens in an iOS 14.5 beta, offering the strongest evidence we’d yet seen that the Find My network was just around the corner. Notably, however, the new Find My items feature only requires iOS 14.3.
To add even more fuel to the fire, this week also saw the release of a new app designed to allow third-party manufacturers to test their tags against the Find My network. Known as Find My Certification Assistant, the app quietly went live on the App Store on Sunday, before being spotted yesterday by TechCrunch. While the app can be downloaded by any iPhone or iPad user, the description makes it clear that it’s only for companies that are part of Apple’s Made for iPhone (MFi) program.
While almost all the pieces were in place, however, we were expecting that this announcement would come as part of Apple’s much-rumoured spring event, rather than being slipped out more quietly as a press release.
What About AirTags?
To be clear, Apple is not releasing AirTags at this point, and other than the fact that Apple’s own rumoured tags will likely participate in the Find My network in the same way, this announcement has nothing to do with a new Apple hardware product.
Instead, Apple is focusing on the Find My Network Accessory Program, and using the opportunity to highlight all the companies that are already on board. While the list isn’t very long just yet, it notably includes long-time Apple accessory partner Belkin, along with Chipolo and VanMoof. Perhaps not surprisingly, Tile is nowhere to be found on this list.
Apple has also created a new “Works with Apple Find My” logo that can be used on packaging for products that are compatible with the Find My network and the Find My app.
According to Apple, the first products that will tie into the Find My network will be the latest S3 and X3 e-bikes from VanMoof, Chipolo’s ONE Spot item finder, and Belkin’s SOUNDFORM Freedom True Wireless Earbuds, with more companies introducing their own Find My compatible accessories in the near future.
These products will allow users to locate where they left their ride, their earbuds at the gym, their backpack, and so much more. Additional third-party device manufacturers will offer Find My-enabled products and accessories soon.Apple
What’s particularly interesting here is that Belkin announced its new earbuds back in January, including support for “finding capabilities through Apple’s Find My network, an advanced crowdsourced finding network with uncompromising privacy built-in, that will allow customers to use the Find My app to locate them in case they are lost or stolen.” The availability of “March/April 2021” provided another clue even back then as to when the Find My network was expected to launch.
Notably, however, this also means that a third-party set of true wireless earbuds now include an Apple feature that’s missing from Apple’s own AirPods lineup.
While it’s possible that AirPods could gain this capability through a firmware update, at this point Apple doesn’t even mention its own wireless earbuds in the announcement. It’s entirely about third-party products.
What’s Going on Here?
As we’ve suggested previously, it seems very likely that Apple is doing its best to head off any antitrust concerns by eagerly embracing third-party manufacturers and leaving its own accessories off the table, for now at least.
In fact, it seems very likely that Apple has deliberately delayed the release of AirTags for this very reason. Multiple reports suggested AirTags were ready to go last fall, and while it’s also possible Apple just didn’t see the point in releasing them in the middle of a pandemic, we think it’s far more likely that it just didn’t see the point in raising the ire of antitrust regulators over what’s likely to be a $39 accessory.
After all, while Apple is willing to go to war over its App Store, that’s a $20 billion a year business. By comparison, it’s likely that AirTags sales will amount to little more than a rounding error in Apple’s $13 billion services business.
There’s also no doubt that Apple would have had another antitrust fight on its hands with AirTags. The sabre-rattling began well over a year ago, when Tile starting making noise to U.S. antitrust regulators and then followed that up by calling for an antitrust investigation in the EU — all for a product that still doesn’t even exist.
So, it seems likely that Apple will soon follow up the announcement of its Find My network with the release of its own AirTags, at which point it will be able to point to accessories by Belkin, VanMoof, Chipolo, and more, as examples that it’s not giving itself a home-field advantage. If Tile still doesn’t want to play along, that’s their choice.
In fact, although the current crop of Find My network accessories are strictly Bluetooth-based, as part of today’s announcement, Apple also says it will be releasing a draft specification for MFi partners to add Ultra-Wideband support, taking advantage of the more precise location features of U1-equipped Apple devices. Since Apple’s AirTags have long been expected to include UWB support, it’s also possible that Apple may hold off on their debut until the same features are at least being offered to third-party trackers.