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Apple AirTags: What are they and when are they coming?

Apple's rumored tracking tiles will likely be more accurate than Tile devices and be deeply integrated with the Find My app.

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Apple does a lot to help us find our misplaced iPhones, Apple Watches, and iPads, and rumors strongly suggest that Apple is currently working on a Tile-like device that will allow us to find other items as well. Here’s everything we know so far.

Update 4/16/2020: Added a reference to Bloomberg's report regarding Apple's fall lineup. 

The latest rumor: AirTags referenced in Apple support video

Apple isn’t trying too hard to hide the existence of AirTags. In March of 2020, it uploaded a support video to its YouTube account showing how to erase an iPhone. At roughly the 1:43 mark in the video—which has since been pulled—Apple shows how to turn off Find My iPhone, and in doing so revealed a toggle for turning off the feature “Enable Offline Finding.” In the feature’s own words, “Offline finding enables this device and AirTags to be found when not connected to Wi-Fi or cellular.” The video was originally spotted by Appleosophy.

What are AirTags?

AirTags are tracking tiles that will likely be similar to popular Bluetooth tracking products from Tile, Adero and similar companies. You can attach these tiles to objects like keyrings, suitcases, or bags (or even put them in your wallet), and then you can find the tile and the object it’s attached to by looking at an app on your phone.

AirTags are rumored to be more accurate than traditional Bluetooth trackers, as each one is thought to contain a U1 ultra-wideband chip, much as you find in the latest iPhones. These chips transmit more data than Bluetooth and at a higher rate. That means you won’t just be able to tell if an AirTag is in a house—you’ll also be able to pinpoint exactly where it is. Augmented reality will probably assist with the process of finding your stuff as well.

Tile’s devices are square, but an asset discovered in the iOS 13 beta by 9to5Mac last June suggests that the AirTags will be round, white, and have an Apple logo in the middle. It’s possible this is just a mockup, though, and not the final design. (Also, the same assets suggested that the tags are codenamed as “B389” within Apple.)

apple airtags 9to5Mac

The asset discovered by 9to5Mac. Taking rounded edges to the extreme.

In April of 2020, Apple itself accidentally posted a video on its YouTube page showing that AirTags can still work even when you’re not connected to Wi-Fi or cellular connections. The video was quickly pulled.

How will AirTags work?

AirTags will likely have a proximity chip inside them that will allow you to pair them with an iPhone quickly by holding them next to your phone, much as with the AirPods on the HomePod.

You’ll likely do the actual tracking through the recently redesigned Find My app, which is rumored to be getting a new “Items” tab where you can track multiple AirTags.

There are several rumored features, many of which MacRumors reported after getting access to an internal iOS 13 build in August of 2019. Your iPhone might send you a notification if you get too far from an AirTag, for instance, which could be useful if you keep the tag attached to your keys or inside your wallet. You might be able to add “Safe Locations” to ignore, though, so your phone isn’t constantly pinging you when you, say, leave your wallet in your gym locker while working out. You will probably also be able to put the tracker in “Lost Mode,” allowing the tag to relay your contact information to other Apple users who come across the tag, who will then be able to contact you. The AirTag should also send you a notification when it’s found.

Much as Tile does with people running its app, Apple will likely use the proximity data of nearby iOS device owners to help pinpoint the location of your AirTag as well. The person whose iPhone was used for the location pinpointing will never know about it—unless, of course, you put your AirTag into Lost Mode. Apple has an advantage over Tile in this regard because of the massive number of people without iOS devices around the world.

Much as you can with an iPhone or an Apple Watch, you might be able to make the AirTag emit a sound through the Find My app in order to make it easier to find. Also, when you’re close to your AirTag, Apple might let you use the camera to see balloons in the direction of your Airbag with the help of augmented reality. This is similar to how the Pixie Wireless Tracker works.

AirTags may also have a button-cell removable battery like those found in digital cameras and similar electronic devices. If an AirTag has a low battery, it will probably send out a final location before it goes offline.

When will AirTags be released?

AirTags are still a rumored product, so there hasn’t been an official statement from Apple regarding a release date.

In February of 2020, though, respected TF Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in an investor report that Apple will begin mass production of AirTags in either the second or third quarter of this year. That means we’ll likely have to wait until fall to see them in stores at the earliest, but there’s a chance that Apple could actually announce them at this year’s WWDC. In April, Bloomberg pegged their release in the fall as well, and it's worth noting that the report refers to the devices as "Apple Tags." Despite confirmed internal use of the name "AirTags" in the March support video, that suggests there's a chance the trackers might have a different name by the time they release.

We currently don’t know how much they’ll cost, but the general consensus is that they’ll be relatively affordable because Apple would want users to buy multiple AirTags.

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