Simple accessories often serve a useful purpose. And with the AirTag, Apple is aiming to do exactly that. Its 11g coin-shaped accessory allows users to keep track of their belongings. But how useful is it?
Design and build quality
Right from its unboxing experience, the AirTag feels unmistakably Apple. The form factor is decently compact. However, its thickness is well above that of your average coin. As such, putting it in a wallet might be slightly out of question. But if you were to use it for belongings such as a purse, your car or your travel bag, you can simply toss the AirTag inside.
To make it work with keys or to wrap it around your bag’s handle, you need another dedicated accessory. You could either opt for official Apple products or third-party solutions that do the same job. While this does allow users to customise their AirTag to individual preference, a dedicated hole on it would have allowed you to use any lanyard. For the DIY-savvy people out there, you can drill a hole in Apple’s AirTag and still make it work. Although, we wouldn’t recommend it.
Apart from its size though, the other thing to talk about with the AirTag is durability. It is essentially a stainless steel disk with a polycarbonate top. While water and dust resistance is appreciated, your AirTag will easily scratch up with daily use. This is just an inherent property of the device, but if you are going to toss it in a bag, it should not bother you too much.
One of the biggest catches with the AirTag is the need for an Apple device. It does not support Android devices like its competition. And even with an Apple device, its full potential is only available with an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 series smartphone thanks to the availability of ultra-wideband (UWB) technology.
To pair, you simply bring the device close to your iPhone for the pairing menu to appear. It is just like pairing Apple AirPods and should take under a minute. Within the process, you can name your AirTag, customise it with an emoji on Apple’s ‘Find My’ application and assign it with your Apple ID.
Tracking your belongings
There are two ways to use the Apple AirTag with the ‘Find My’ application. Firstly, you can use its passive tracking feature. This allows you to see where your belongings are on a map of your city. But there is a catch. Real-time tracking of your belongings only works when your iPhone is around 10m from your AirTag. As the AirTag moves further away, connectivity becomes unstable and weak.
When using the AirTag in this situation, there were often times where it miscalculated where my car was. And updating its location also seemed to work inconsistently when it was moving. With this being a first-generation product, we will give it some leeway. But if you intend to use the AirTag for real-time tracking, it may disappoint.
Coming back to UWB, this is a huge part of the AirTag’s active tracking feature, known as ‘Precision Finding’. When about 10-15m away from an AirTag, you can track it from the ‘Find My’ application. In this case, your iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 will use UWB technology along with its gyroscope and accelerometer to pinpoint exactly where your AirTag is. You receive a set of directions in real-time, almost like playing a game of ‘hot or cold’. As you get closer, the haptic feedback and rumble from your iPhone gets stronger until it finds the AirTag in question.
Within ‘Find My’, you can also access options to ‘Play Sound’ or to trigger ‘Lost Mode’. The former plays a sound through your AirTag which almost sounds like an alarm whereas the latter is a tool to find your AirTag if it is lost. When triggered, the AirTag uses nearby iPhone devices to help you find it, taking advantage of how mainstream it is, which is quite cool. When found, a simple NFC tap with the AirTag lets you access contact information, working both on Apple or Android devices.
Improvements to make
As a first-generation product, the AirTag could use a number of improvements. While its promise of 1-year battery life is great, it resets every time you have to change the CR2032 battery on-board. This means if you decide to flaunt your AirTag on a handbag, one could easily reset it defeating the purpose of the accessory. A sensor or notification to the user when their AirTag is being handled in this manner would help solve this to a certain extent.
This reset may have to do with the security of the AirTag, but we feel it is still not free of privacy invasion. By being so accessible in terms of price, someone can easily plant it to track or stalk your movements. Apple’s fail-safe for this is to notify the person being tracked, if they happen to own an iPhone. Otherwise, the host iPhone for the AirTag stays far from it for too long, the AirTag will automatically play a sound alerting the person being tracked regardless of them owning an iPhone or an Android phone. While the latter is welcome, we would like to see a future version of the AirTag being more inclusive of Android devices that support UWB.
Lastly, we have to mention usage in apartment style housing. While the AirTag works great for tracking on one floor or in predominantly open-house style living, it will struggle in closed off apartments or multi-storey buildings. For instance, you could be on the 7th floor of an apartment whereas your AirTag on the 5th in the exact same place. And in this situation, there would be no way to use ‘Precision Finding’ to find your belonging. Or, if you happen to hide the AirTag in a closet full of clothes or a bookcase, ‘Precision Finding’ will only give you a general idea of where the AirTag is.
As someone who is not very forgetful of their belongings, the Apple AirTag is not for me. But for those that are, it could serve as a decent way to track belongings. One could combine their general sense of where they forgot something with ‘Precision Finding’. Apple’s AirTag does not aim to be a real-time tracker nor something that gives you absolute locations of items. But in providing an idea of where your belongings are, it simply makes finding things a bit easier.