(Pocket-lint) - Apple is supposedly working on new products to rival Tile, a popular hardware tracker that attaches to items in order to locate their physical over Bluetooth or crowdsourcing.
Similarly, Apple's trackers, thought to be called Apple Tags or Air Tags, will allow 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 latest iPhone 11 range (although this tech isn't featured in the 2020 iPad Pro).
Although there are some rumours to the contrary, it's likely they'll use the standard iOS Find My app, along with crowdsourcing, to precisely locate your devices, even in a room. Here's everything we know so far about them.
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 by Apple.
Apple now appears to have revealed the name accidentally - the slip-up occurred in a now-deleted video published to the Apple Support YouTube channel.
Apple AirTags: Release date
- Probably at Apple's September 2020 launch
- Might be unveiled via press release
In a research note (via 9to5Mac), analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said he expects Apple's partners to ramp up production of the trackers in the second or third quarter of 2020. We're expecting them to launch at Apple's September 2020 launch alongside the iPhone 12.
Apple AirTags: Design
- Expected to be circular devices
- Might have Apple logo in the centre
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. As you can see in the image above, AirTags might be circular, with an Apple logo in the centre. These 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.
Apple Tags/AirTags: Features
- Will let you track items it's attached to via Find My app
- Might be waterproof
Find My app
Apple’s trackers will likely be integrated with iOS. You will be able to access and control them via the new Find My app your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Once the items trackers launch, there should be a new Items tab in the Find My app so you can track their location.
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.
Noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (in a research note with TF International Securities today obtained by MacRumors) said he expects Apple's new trackers to feature ultra-wideband technology, which all three iPhone 11 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 new iPad Pro doesn't appear to have this.
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 - 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 new Find My app will leverage Apple's ARKit platform. 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?)
MacRumors also 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 batteries used in 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.
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, we suspect Apple's trackers won't feature a removable battery.
Mac Otakara also said Apple's trackers will be "completely waterproof".
Mac Otakara is a Japan-based new site 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 and is considered a prolific Apple watcher and trusted source on rumours.
What's happened so far?
Here's everything we've heard about the Apple Tags/AirTags so far.
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.