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During today’s “Spring Loaded” event Apple finally took the wraps off its AirTags. It’s arguably one of the most highly anticipated and long-rumoured Apple products in recent years, and yet Apple actually gave it less than five minutes of stage time, breezing through it in the intro on its way to bigger and better things.
Of course, there’s also not much Apple had to say about them that we haven’t already been hearing in the rumour mill for years. Plus, Apple already revealed its Find My network earlier this month, with Belkin, Chipolo, and Van Moof already expected to release products later this spring that will take advantage of it.
That said, Apple’s own first-party tracking tags will bring much more to the table, thanks to the rumoured support for very precise location tracking by devices like the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 that include Apple’s U1 chip.
Taking the virtual stage during Apple’s event today, Engineering Program Manager Carolyn Wolfman-Estrada recapped Apple’s Find My features as a segue into a video that showed a man tracking a set of keys through a cave to what appeared to be the other side of the planet.
At the end of the video, we got our first glimpse of Apple’s now-legendary new item tracking tag, emblazoned with the name “AirTag” — not plural, but singular. The appearance of the AirTag lined up with images we’ve seen from leakers in recent months, although Apple showed it off within a case designed to attach it to keys, backpacks, luggage, and other items, since of course that’s the whole point of an AirTag.
However, one thing that we didn’t really see coming is that Apple will also allow AirTags to be personalized with a variety of glyphs, and even emoji characters. It’s not clear yet exactly how that will work — although it will likely be similar to ordering other products with custom engravings, it’s possible that Apple may also sell AirTags prepackaged with common designs.
One of the coolest features we’ve been expecting to see in Apple’s own tags is the ability to actually find out exactly where in a room a lost item has ended up. After all, companies like Tile have been doing Bluetooth tracking tags for years, which can easily let you know that you left an item at home, at the office, or at the gym, but don’t really offer much more help than that.
If you have an iPhone with a U1 chip — that is, an iPhone 11 or an iPhone 12 — then you’ll be able to hone into almost the exact location of your misplaced item.
The next time the couch eats your keys, AirTag will help you find them.Carolyn Wolfman-Estrada, Engineering Program Manager, iPhone Systems
To accomplish this, Find My will use the camera, accelerometer, and gyroscope to provide visual, haptic, and audible feedback.
During the presentation, Apple showed a large, navigation-style iPhone screen with arrows and a distance indicator. Despite the mention of the camera, however, none of the rumoured augmented reality features were shown off, so those may not be ready quite yet.
As we’ve heard previously, AirTags will include several privacy and safety features to prevent them from being turned into tools against stalkers, including notifications on your iPhone when a tag is detected moving with you that clearly doesn’t belong to you, along with audible alerts from the AirTag itself to help you figure out where it’s hidden.
What Else We Know
Apple breezed through the new tags very quickly during its event today, so it naturally didn’t have time to cover everything. Fortunately, however, it’s filled in many of the blanks on its new AirTag product page.
Unfortunately, even though the Apple Watch Series 6 includes a U1 chip, Apple didn’t make any mention of using that with Precision Finding, and Apple lists the feature as compatible only with iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 models.
We already know that Find My compatible item tracking tags will include a “Lost Mode” capability to help reunite them with their owners, but it seems that AirTags will take this a step further, with an NFC feature that will let anybody with an NFC-capable smartphone — not just an iPhone — to tap on the tag to get your contact info.
For those who may be wondering what will happen when you travel with a friend who is also carrying an AirTag — or a train with a bunch of AirTag users — Apple explains that the anti-stalking features will only be triggered when an AirTag is away from its paired iPhone. You’ll also be able to pause these safety alerts for those situations where you’ve determined that the AirTag in question is harmless.
Apple also didn’t discuss how the AirTags are powered, but it turns out that they run on a replaceable battery that promises more than a year of normal use. In a footnote on its product page, Apple defines “normal use” as “four play sound events and one Precision Finding event per day,” so it’s quite possible that it could last considerably longer for users who don’t lose their items on a daily basis.
When Can I Get One?
You’ll be able to preorder AirTags this Friday, April 23, and they’re expected to go on sale the following Friday, April 30th.
In a particularly nice surprise, the price is even lower than we previously heard, with a single AirTag selling for $29. Apple will also be selling four-packs of AirTags for $99, since as Wolfman-Estrada explained, the company expects that many people will want more than one.
Contrary to some earlier rumours, however, AirTags will not include any kind of carrying case — at least not in the standard $29 version — although presumably many third-party accessory makers will undoubtedly step in to fill the gap.
That said, the rumoured leather case option is available, but it comes in the form of a collection of special (and expensive) versions of the AirTag made in partnership with Hermès. Priced from $299 to $449, there’s an AirTag Hermès Key Ring, Bag Charm, and Luggage Tag, all of which include “an exclusive AirTag Hermès etched with the iconic Clou de Selle signature.”
Unfortunately, it seems like these are the only case options that are available at this point. Hopefully others will pop up soon, but if you want to get an AirTag right away, be prepared to figure out how you’re going to attach it to your stuff on your own — unless of course you’re willing to spend over 300 bucks for a premium leather key ring.