One thing that was conspicuously absent during last week’s Apple event was any mention of the company’s much-rumoured ‘Apple Tags’ — small location-tracking accessories, similar to those made by Tile, that can be attached to things like keys to allow them to be located via any iOS device.
While Apple itself has been completely silent about anything it’s working on in that area, there’s been support for it found in iOS 13 since the very first betas, and more recent builds have provided even more evidence that Apple plans to release an actual product in the very near future. So it’s wasn’t unreasonable to assume that we could have heard something alongside the unveiling of Apple’s iPhone 11 models last week.
In fact, it looks like Apple’s not only paving the way for the new accessory in iOS 13, but even in the hardware found in the 2019 iPhone 11 models. Earlier this year, reports surfaced that Apple would be introducing ultra wideband (UWB) technology in the new iPhones, but at the time this was assumed as a move toward highly-accurate indoor navigation features. It wasn’t until later that the pieces started to come together with the realization that UWB could also power extremely accurate location tags, the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
Although the iPhone 11 models debuted with a new U1 chip to power the new UWB features, Apple of course has remained mum on what this really means, saying only at this point that it will allow for much more accurate AirDropping between iPhone 11 devices.
However, Apple surely didn’t invest in UWB and a whole new U1 chip just to make AirDrop better, so this is obviously to lay the foundation for something more, and with even more new elements being found in internal iOS 13 builds, it’s starting to seem like the release of Apple’s new tags should be right around the corner.
Find My … ‘Items’
New screenshots of an internal iOS 13.x build obtained by MacRumors reveal that the new Find My app will be gaining an “Items” tab. This does not appear in the code in the public version of iOS 13.0, but in the internal developer build, the tab is not only present, but includes text that illustrates Apple’s plans more clearly than ever.
According to MacRumors, the new tab will replace the existing “Me” tab, which will instead be relocated to an avatar that will hover above the map in all tabs. The Items tab itself shows icons of a key, a briefcase, and a bicycle, with the text “Keep track of your everyday items” and “B389” — what’s already been reported as the internal codename for the new accessory — where an actual product name would go.
An “Add” button at the bottom allows the user to associate a new tag with their Apple ID, allowing the location of the tag — and by extension anything it’s attached to — to be tracked directly from the Find My app, in much the same way that tracking an iPhone works.
According to MacRumors, the Find My app will not only allow for these tags to be tracked, but will provide notifications when users wander out of range of a tagged item, preventing you from forgetting your keys, for example. You’ll also be able to set “safe locations” where you won’t be notified if an item is left behind.
Users will also be able to tap a button in the Find My app that will cause the tag to start chiming loudly so that they can locate the lost item. However, this is where the iPhone 11 and its new U1 chip will also come in.
While those with older iPhones will have to rely on locating their item by sound, those with the newer UWB-equipped iPhones will be able to use an augmented reality view to pinpoint the exact location of their tag in a room. In fact, the internal build of iOS 13 even includes assets for a 3D red balloon that could be used for this purpose, along with a message in the code that instructs the user to “Walk around several feet and move your iPhone up and down until a balloon comes into view.”
The new tags will also support a “lost mode” similar in concept to what’s long been available for Apple’s actual hardware devices. It looks like users will need to enable this manually after they discover an item as lost, at which point any other iPhone users who come within range of the item will be able to provide location information back to the original owner.
iPhone users who physically find an item with an Apple tag on it will also be able to look up contact information for the item’s owner and get a hold of them via phone or text message.
So When Are Apple Tags Coming?
Many analysts expected Apple to at least announce the new tags at its event last week, but it’s possible that they’re not quite ready, and perhaps Apple is even still sorting out a few technical challenges.
While Apple could have pre-announced the devices, they’ve also almost certainly learned their lesson with AirPower, and are therefore probably more reluctant to announce a product until they’re absolutely certain it’s ready. It’s also important to keep in mind that none of this code has been found in any public builds of iOS 13, so we can’t rule out the fact that Apple may have delayed or even cancelled the project entirely.
Of course, it’s also simply possible that there was no time during this month’s event, since it was jam-packed with not only Apple’s new hardware announcements, but a significant portion taken up in promoting the new Apple Arcade and Apple TV+ services. Even the initial introductory preamble normally given by Apple CEO Tim Cook on the state of Apple’s business was omitted.
With another Apple event likely coming in October — there are still new iPad Pros and MacBooks to come, after all — Apple may have simply pushed off the announcement of its new tags to give them the stage time and attention they deserve.