(Pocket-lint) - Apple is working on a product to rival Tile, a popular tracker that attaches to items to locate them over Bluetooth or crowdsourcing. Apple's trackers, thought to be called AirTags, will also enable users to locate lost or stolen items.
The existence of these devices has been widely reported on by the media and leakers since last year. They're expected to look like circular discs and should feature the same ultra-wideband tech as Apple's iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 range (although this tech isn't featured in the 2020 iPad Pro or iPad Air strangely).
The AirTags will use the standard iOS Find My app to locate your devices with U1 devices being able to more precisely locate the tracker.
Here's everything we know so far about AirTags.
Apple AirTags name
- Originally thought to be called Apple Tags
- Now commonly referred to as AirTags
Most reports are currently referring to Apple's trackers as "AirTags", although they've also been called "Apple Tags".
Apple has yet to confirm it is working on trackers, of course, so neither of these names has been confirmed either. However, the company may have revealed the name accidentally after a now-deleted video was published to the Apple Support YouTube channel.
Apple AirTags release date
- Launch expected to be imminent
Nikkei Asian Review claimed at the beginning of September 2020 that production had started. Apple held Special Events for the iPad and iPhone across 15 September and 13 October, but the tags didn't make their debut at either, similar to Apple's November Mac event.
Leaker Jon Prosser, who has a mixed track record, shared on Twitter that Apple pushed the release of AirTags back to March 2021. However, the March event now appears to have become an April 2021 one and we think this is the most likely release date unless there has been a problem with production.
Apple AirTags design
- Expected to be circular devices
- A diameter of 32mm reported
- Will they have a replaceable battery?
9to5Mac spotted assets in an iOS 13 beta pertaining to a "Tag1,1" product that pairs to other devices by proximity.
Another asset in the beta hinted at a potential design. It's thought AirTags might be circular, with an Apple logo in the centre. The beta assets complement other reporting, so speculation about the new trackers is at an all-time high.
Keep in mind Tile's own trackers are square-shaped, so Apple would certainly differentiate itself from Tile if it launched circular trackers.
In late January 2021 AirTag accessories started to be available for purchase from some vendors - it's difficult to say how legit these are, but they all point to the same circular design.
Subsequently, it was reported that they are 32mm in diameter and 6mm thick - which is actually quite thick when you consider how thick an iPhone is, for example.
MacRumorsalso spotted code in an internal build of iOS 13 that suggested Apple's device trackers would feature a removable battery and may use the same small watch batteries used in some Tile trackers. "Unscrew the back of the item and remove the battery," one code string in the Find My app said. A low battery warning would also force the tracker to send a final location before it dies, apparently.
Apple Tags/AirTags: Features
- Will let you track items it's attached to via Find My app
- Might be waterproof
We can safely assume that Apple's trackers will be tightly integrated with iOS. You will be able to access and control them via the Find My app your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
Screenshots, courtesy of MacRumors, show the Items tab tells users to "keep track of your everyday items". It adds: "Tag your everyday items with B389 and never lose them again". B389 is the internal codename for Apple's trackers, 9to5Mac claimed.
Apple's trackers likely attach to belongings in some way, whether that be a purse or keys or stuffed animal. And they will pair to your iCloud account by proximity to an iPhone - just like AirPods do. The idea is, reportedly, you will receive a notification when your iPhone gets too far away from the tracker. So, if the tracker is attached to your keys and you walk away from them, you will receive an alert on your phone.
Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said he expects Apple's new trackers to feature ultra-wideband technology, which all three iPhone 11 models and all four iPhone 12 models have, thanks to the U1 chip. (The "U" in U1 stands for "ultra-wideband"). It's a low-energy, short-range radio technology used for wireless data transmission.
The distance between two ultra-wideband-equipped (UWB) devices can be measured much more precisely by calculating the time that it takes for a radio wave to pass between the two devices. Even when not connected to the internet, a UWB-equipped device will constantly send out signals. These signals will be noticed by any passing iOS device, and the device's location is forwarded - anonymous and encrypted - to Apple.
From what we can tell, the Find My app will leverage UWB devices like the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 - in other words, it'll crowdsource - to find your Apple trackers. Potentially, it could ping hundreds of millions of iPhones. That's a massive locator network that even Tile can't beat. Better yet, reports indicate Apple's trackers will be able to offer very precise item tracking, down to an exact position in a room.
You'll be able to put Apple's trackers into a Lost Mode, 9to5Mac reported, so your contact information stored on the device can be made available to other Apple users. If and when that happens, you'll be alerted, so that you know the tracker (and your item) has been found.
Apple's Find My app will leverage Apple's ARKit platform it's claimed. An internal build of iOS 13 included an asset for a 3D red balloon, which MacRumors said can help a user locate and spot a lost item after scanning a room with their iPhone. Apple tells users to "walk around several feet and move your iPhone up and down until a balloon comes into view". There's even an image of a 2D orange balloon.
Removable battery (or magnetic charging?)
However, Mac Otakara more recently claimed Apple's trackers will feature magnetic wireless charging technology similar to the Apple Watch. If that's the case, they probably won't feature a removable battery.
Mac Otakara also said Apple's trackers will be "completely waterproof". Mac Otakara is a Japan-based website with deep connections to the Asian supply chain and accessory manufacturers, although it also shares information gleaned from other sites. Nevertheless, it's largely accurate.
What's happened so far?
Here's everything we've heard about the Apple Tags/AirTags so far.
26 March 2021 - Now we know how big they'll be
Leaker Max Weinbach says they'll be 32mm in diameter and 6mm. thick. That's just a little larger than a US half-dollar coin or a UK £2 coin.
15 February 2021: AirTags could launch in April
Max Weinbach claimed in a video that the AirTags could launch in March or April. The latter month now appears to be the case.
26 January 2021: Apple AirTag accessories start to appear
The AirTags launch appears to be close thanks to the appearance of a few accessories online. There's a faux leather Spigen keyring holder for the tag plus a glasses cord from Nomad featuring a holder, too. And there's also a keychain holder from Nomad too. We're now thinking the AirTags launch will be in the Spring, potentially March.
2 November 2020: Mac event passes without AirTag launch
Apple has scheduled an event for 10 November, with the invite reading "One more thing". It is not yet known what will be revealed at the event, but we're keeping our fingers crossed for the AirTags. But in the end this event was Mac only.
13 October 2020: Apple iPhone 12 revealed, but no AirTags
Apple announced the iPhone 12 models during an event on 13 October, but there were no AirTags mentioned.
9 October 2020: Apple's AirTag trackers might not arrive until March 2021
Leaker Jon Prosser, who has a mixed track record, shared on Twitter that Apple pushed the release of AirTags back to next spring.
6 October 2020: Apple schedules next hardware event
Apple sent out invites for its next hardware event on 13 October. The invite had the tagline "Hi Speed", but nothing else was given away. The iPhone 12 is expected to launch at the event, along with the AirTags.
15 September 2020: Apple holds event but tags not revealed
Apple held a Special Event on 15 September where it launched the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, next generation of iPad Air and next generation of the standard iPad, along with some services. No sign of the Apple tags though.
9 September 2020: Apple's Tile-like AirTags enter production: Launching this autumn?
Nikkei Asian Review claims the Apple AirTags have finally entered production, suggesting you may be able to buy them soon.
8 September 2020: Apple announces Special Event
Apple announced it would hold a virtual Special Event on 15 September. The invite says "Time Flies" but of course, it is not confirmed what will be revealed at the event.
1 September 2020: Apple Air Tags could launch with iPhone 12
Japanese site Mac Otakara claims the Apple Air Tags could launch alongside the iPhone 12 and Apple Watch Series 6 and that they might work with App Clips.
18 April 2020: AirTags sounds found in code
Leaker Soybeys found some AirTags sound effects in iOS code which we assume would be played when your tracker is located or when you walk away from your tracker and break the Bluetooth connection.
3 April 2020: AirTags name revealed
Apple appears to have accidentally name-dropped AirTags. The slip-up occurred in a now-deleted video published to the Apple Support YouTube channel.
25 February 2020: Apple's AirTags might be waterproof, use magnetic wireless charging
More credible information has surfaced on Apple's Tile-like devices, thought to be called Apple Tags or AirTags.
18 February 2020: Apple Tag location trackers might actually launch later this year
Since Apple Tags or whatever they end up being called will be an entirely new product category, we suspect Apple might actually unveil them at WWDC.
28 October 2019: Apple's Tile-like tracking devices might actually be called AirTags
Apple for months has been rumoured to be working on Tile-like trackers you can attach to items. They might be called AirTags.
4 June 2019: Will Apple launch its own Tile-like Tag tracker? Maybe in September
We really thought Apple was going to announce Tile-like trackers alongside its new Find My service at WWDC 2019.
18 April 2019: Apple is making a Tile-like tracker to go with an all-new Find my iPhone app
Apple is planning to combine its Find my iPhone and Find my Friends services and open them up to non-Apple devices with new hardware that tracks you.