I’ve been playing around with Apple’s new AirTag location devices for a few hours now, and they seem to work pretty much as advertised. The setup flow is clean and straightforward, taking clear inspiration from the one Apple developed for AirPods. The precision finding feature enabled by the U1 chip works as a solid example of utility-driven augmented reality, popping up a virtual arrow and other visual identifiers on the screen to make finding a tag quicker.
The fundamental way AirTags work, if you’re not familiar, is that they use Bluetooth beaconing technology to announce their presence to any nearby devices running iOS 13 and above. These soft pings are encrypted and invisible (usually) to any passer-by, especially if they are with their owners. This means that no one ever knows which device actually “located” your AirTag, not even Apple.
With you, by the way, means in relative proximity to a device signed in to the iCloud account to which the AirTags are registered. Bluetooth range is typically in the ~40-foot range depending on local conditions and signal bounce.
In my minimal testing so far, the AirTag location range fits in with that basic Bluetooth expectation, which means that it can be foiled by a lot of obstructions or walls or an unflattering signal bounce. For instance, it often took 30 seconds or more to get an initial location from an AirTag in another room. However, once the site was received, the instructions to locate the device seemed to update quickly and were extremely accurate down to a few inches.
The AirTags run for a year on a standard CR2032 battery that’s user-replaceable. They offer some water resistance, including submersion, for some time. A host of accessories seem nicely designed, like leather straps for bags, luggage tags, and key rings. Also, I got a lot yesterday to answer a question: no, this functionality is inexplicably not built into the new Apple TV remote.
In this shot of the disassembled AirTag, you can see Apple’s extensive hardware obsession on display. The battery contacts inside the casing are not simple bend prongs as is typical for small devices; instead, the connection is made via the internal casing clasps and a set of three pressure contacts. This should improve longevity as they are less likely to get tweaked or bent during a battery replacement or lose connection over time. So far, so good. More testing to come.
As with anything to do with location, security and privacy are a top-of-mind situation for AirTags, and Apple has some protections in place. You cannot share AirTags — they are meant to be owned by one person. The only special privilege offered by people in your iCloud Family Sharing Group is that they can silence the “unknown AirTag nearby” alerts indefinitely. This makes AirTags useful for things like shared sets of keys or maybe even a family pet. This means that AirTags will not show up on your family Find My section like other iOS devices might. There is now a discrete section within the app just for “Items,” including those with Find My functionality built-in.