New Evidence Reveals Apple Wanted to Release AirTags Nearly Two Years Ago

AirTag on MacBook Credit: Noah Evans / Twitter
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There’s no doubt that Apple’s AirTag has been one of the longest-rumoured products in the company’s recent history, but with the AirTags and related Apple accessories finally arriving in our hands, we’re finally getting a peek at just how long Apple may have been holding back the release date.

While we’ve certainly been hearing about big moonshot projects like the Apple Car and Apple’s AR Headset for even longer, there’s never been a product in Apple history that has seemed so close, yet so far away, for such a long time.

After all, we first heard about AirTags over two years ago, in April 2019, and by the time WWDC rolled around in June of that year, eagled-eyed developers were finding references to the mythic tracking tags in the very first iOS 13 betas. By the time iOS 13.2 came out in the fall of 2019, we even had a name: AirTag, in the now-known singular form.

This led many to believe that Apple was preparing to launch the AirTag in the fall of 2019, especially with the debut of the new U1 chip in the iPhone 11 lineup, which otherwise seemed woefully underused for any practical purposes.

However, as December came and went without a peep, we were left scratching our collective heads as to what Apple was up to. The much-rumoured product kept making sporadic appearances, most notably with Apple inadvertently leaking the name in a support video last spring, but once again, Apple’s June WWDC event passed without only the barest hint of the AirTag.

In fact, that minor hint came in the form of Apple welcoming third-parties into its Find My network ecosystem, a move that left some wondering if Apple was actually abandoning its own first-party tags and ceding the playing field to others.

In the very least, it seemed obvious that Apple was trying to stave off potential antitrust headaches, considering that Tile had spent the better part of 2020 raising allegations of anticompetitive behaviour to anybody who would listen. As staunchly as Apple defends its $20 billion App Store business, it’s probably fair to say that it’s not so stubborn as to insist on going to the mattresses over a $29 tracking tag that’s more about enhancing the iPhone ecosystem as a whole.

Now, however, it’s beginning to look like Apple was preparing to release AirTags almost two years ago, but was forced to — or decided to — delay the product’s release for whatever reason.

2019 AirTag Accessories

We already had solid evidence that Apple had decided on a name for the accessory back in 2019, since it appeared buried in iOS 13.2, which was released in late October of that year.

What we didn’t know back then is that Apple was already preparing at least some of its accessories and their packaging, as revealed in the fine print on those same accessories that are now arriving on people’s doorsteps.

As first noted on Twitter by Daniel of YouTube channel ZONEofTECH, the packaging on and inside at least some AirTag boxes and Apple-branded accessories have dates that go back to 2019.

Of course, this still varies widely, but we’ve been able to confirm this ourselves. Apple’s Saddle Brown Leather AirTag keyring has a copyright year of 2020 on the box, while the regulatory warranty insert shows 2019.

To be fair, these inserts are rather generic, with the one included in the Leather Key Ring simply pointing to Apple’s general warranty page, in seven different languages. However, they’ve obviously been sized specifically for the product packaging in question, and more importantly, the copyright notice at the bottom specifically mentioned “Apple AirTag” as being a trademark of Apple.

It also noted that the sheet itself was printed in China, suggesting that these have likely been sitting around for 18 months or more, either with the accessories already in boxes, or simply as a stack of sheets waiting to be packaged.

Notably, however, our box that contained the Leather Key Ring had a date of 2020 on it, printed directly on the box, not on a sticker. Further, while at least one of ZONEofTECH’s AirTags had a 2020-dated box, both of our 4-packs were dated 2021, as was all the paperwork contained inside. However, this may simply indicate that Apple didn’t decide to package the AirTag in four-packs until more recently.

In fact, it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions on when AirTags themselves were ready. Since so far 2019 dates have only been found on some accessory items, it suggests that Apple had the design locked down back then, but most rumours suggested that the hardware devices didn’t enter mass production until early last fall. This would be consistent with the 2020 date found on the packaging for the actual AirTag products.

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