AirTag: First Impressions

Apple’s new item tracker has finally shipped to customers as of April 30th. Two years of rumours and speculation has come to a close and I’ve gotten hands on with the new gadget. Let’s take a closer look.

Design

AirTag features many of the design queues of Apple’s legacy products. The white iPod classic, the Magic Mouse and even more recent products such as AirPods. The white plastic dome on the front combined with the beautiful stainless steel back is a real throw back and feels very premium. Buyers beware however, the tags are a magnet for scratches. If that’s a concern for you, you might want to invest in a skin or a tpu film.

Original photography // Pixel and Polygons

Of course the appearance of AirTag is largely irrelevant to the devices intended purpose to track and find lost items. And Apple did not include a built in way to attach the device to items. Instead you’ll need to purchase one of the many available key rings, loops and holders from either Apple or a third party.

I elected for a saddle brown leather loop by Apple. The leather feels soft and supple. The stitching is beautifully done and detailed. And the loop system makes it ideal to attach to a ruck sack or a piece of heavier luggage such as a suitcase. I really like the design but the accessory cost as much as the AirTag itself. You’ll certainly pay a premium for the accessories and this is where I think Apple is really making the money with AirTag.

The saddle brown leather loop for AirTag. Not to be confused with the leather loop for Apple Watch. Photography // Pixel and Polygons

Features

AirTag relies on BlueTooth and Apple’s proprietary U1 chip for much of its functionality. With Bluetooth, AirTag is able to tap into the large ecosystem of Apple devices such as iPhone, iPad and the Mac. When a tag is lost and is separated from a device signed in with your Apple ID, it will automatically relay its location to the next Apple device it comes in to close proximity with and then forward that to you in the ‘Find My’ app. This happens privately, securely and is end to end encrypted. The person whose device was used to relay the location of your AirTag to you will never even know. Unless of course you activate lost mode.

Lost mode officially marks your AirTag and the item it is attached to as missing. You activate it in the Find My app and when doing so are given the option to add a phone number and other information. Anybody who comes into proximity of your lost item will be presented with this information on their Apple device via a notification. Or by NFC when bringing an Android phone close to the AirTag. The person can then use that information to contact you and help you to reunite with your lost item. Simple, effective and most of all private.

Of course not all items are lost outside of the home. All too often keys, wallets and other smaller items are lost around the home. And Apple has worked its magic here yet again. When entering the Find My app, you’ll see an option to play a sound to help you narrow down the approximate location of your item. The sound is high frequency and clearly audible in a room with average background noise. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to the built in U1 chip in iPhone 11 and later and the matching U1 chip in each AirTag, Apple has enabled a precision finding mode. With precision finding your iPhone can pin point the precise location of your AirTag down to mere centimetres. The user interface guides you with directional queues on screen and haptic feedback to let you know you’re on the right track.

AirTag in precision finding mode.

In my initial testing I found the precision finding mode and audible queues to work very effectively. I haven’t been able to try out the lost mode yet (and hope I never need to!). But I do have faith in the size and scale of Apple’s network and just how long the ‘Find My’ service has been up and running (since 2010 for locating lost iOS devices).

AirTag has a preinstalled coin cell battery that Apple says should last about a year. The battery is user replaceable and easy to do. Just apply pressure to the rear stainless steel casing and twist to remove the cover. A user replaceable battery in an Apple device in 2021 is not something most of us were expecting! And yet AirTag is still IP67 water and dust resistant. Let’s hope Apple continues with this trend! (But I doubt it).

Summary

So far I’m really impressed with AirTag. The beautiful design and the simple to use but highly effective features are examples of Apple at its best. Of course the AirTag also creates further lock in to the Apple ecosystem but if you’re already heavily invested in it, that might not be a concern. But if you like to change platforms from time to time, AirTag won’t be able to make the jump over the Apple wall with you. Instead you might be better off looking into Apple’s competitor in the item tracking space, Tile. But that’s a story for another day.

If you’re all in on the Apple ecosystem and want a way to easily and reliably locate lost items, then so far I have little hesitation in recommending AirTag. And for £29 the price of entry is relatively low. Give them a try, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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