What to expect from Apple 'AirTags' tracking accessory in fall 2020

Posted:
in General Discussion edited October 2020
After a year of rumors, Apple's Ultra Wideband and Bluetooth "AirTags" tracking fobs are expected to arrive in 2020. Here's everything that we know about them so far.

A concept of what Apple's AirTags could look like. Credit: AppleInsider
A concept of what Apple's AirTags could look like. Credit: AppleInsider


The tracking accessory, expected to integrate with Apple's Find My app, could arrive as soon as October 2020. And although nothing is confirmed about the device thus far, there's been no shortage of leaked information, analyst predictions, and other data revealing possible features and details about the expected tracking tags.

Will Apple's UWB tracking tags be called AirTags?

A snippet from an official Apple video that essentially confirmed
A snippet from an official Apple video that essentially confirmed "AirTags" as, at the very least, a working name for the device.


Rumors of Apple's Bluetooth and Ultra Wideband tracking tags have been circulating since the beta testing period of iOS 13. "AirTags" was once a rumored name for the device, but Apple has since inadvertently leaked that the moniker could likely end up being official.

Code changes in an iOS 13.2 beta build included references to a device called "AirTags." An Apple support video in April 2020 also contained settings text confirming the name. Apple later removed that support video.

It's possible that Apple could change the final name before release, but "AirTags" is as good of a guess at the device's moniker as any.

When will Apple "AirTags" be announced?

Apple's tracking tag accessory has seemingly been just over the horizon since its discovery in early builds of iOS 13. Well-connected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo even predicted that the device could arrive in March 2020, or over the summer. Both of those dates have come and gone.

It's likely that Apple had plans to release "AirTags" earlier, but was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic and other issues within the supply chain.

Now, it appears that "AirTags" could launch before the end of 2020, likely at an event alongside new "iPhone 12" or iPad models in October. In late August, Japan-based site Mac Otakara reported that "AirTags" would arrive in late October, citing a source within Apple's supply chain in China.

Tracking in Find My, augmented reality capabilities

The updated
The updated "Items" pane in the Find My app, which is rumored to integrate with "AirTags."


Apple "AirTags" are rumored to be tracking tag accessories that users can attach to their personal items. From there, users can locate lost or missing items through the Find My app.

Internal code changes within iOS beta builds indicate that Apple will add an "Items" pane to the Find My app where they can add, manage, and monitor "AirTags."

Compared to competing devices like Tile trackers, "AirTags" are rumored to have a few novel features.

One is the rumored ability to take advantage of existing Find My tracking abilities, which uses pings from nearby Apple devices for location tracking -- even if you aren't anywhere near a lost item.

"AirTags" may also leverage Apple's work with augmented reality and ARKit. Leaked code in iOS 14 suggests that users will be able to locate missing items or devices in an AR view. For example, a user could see a balloon or other AR object over the location of an "AirTag."

Another new feature is the inclusion of UWB technology, which is further explained below.

Ultra Wideband technology

The current implementation of the U1 chip in Apple devices. Credit: Andrew O'Hara, AppleInsider
The current implementation of the U1 chip in Apple devices. Credit: Andrew O'Hara, AppleInsider


One of the distinguishing features of "AirTags" is rumored to be the inclusion of Ultra Wideband, or UWB, technology. Apple devices currently support UWB. Specifically, the iPhone 11 lineup included a new U1 chip that introduced the technology. But, currently, that feature only allows for AirDrop prioritization.

UWB can be used in other novel ways, however. Compared to Bluetooth, UWB allows for much more accurate and precise location-based tracking -- akin to GPS for interior spaces. What that means, essentially, is that "AirTags" will allow users to locate their lost items with pinpoint accuracy. Beyond "AirTags," Apple is also opening up the U1 chip and its UWB technology to apps and developers through the introduction of a new "Nearby Interactions" framework.

Design

Leaked internal images found within iOS 13 builds suggest that each individual "AirTag" will be circular in design. But, beyond that, we don't really have much information about the accessory's size or other design details.

It's very likely, however, that "AirTags" will be small enough to attach to everyday items like keys, bags, purses, and possibly wallets. That suggests a small and lightweight design akin to Tile trackers or similar competing products. Apple being Apple, a minimalistic design is also probably on the table, with few distinguishing features beyond regulatory text and an Apple logo.

Privacy and security


"AirTags" will likely sport the same privacy and security protections featured in Apple's other devices.


As mentioned earlier, users will be able to locate "AirTags" by pinging nearby Apple devices owned by other people. While that may seem like a privacy or security concern, Apple has built strong safeguards into the system.

For one, the pinged Apple devices aren't notified about their location tracking. Instead, the last known location for the "AirTags" will simply be given to the user who owns them.

All tracking will be end-to-end encrypted, with a single cryptographic key created and stored for each update to a lost "AirTag" location. Such keys are typically stored in Apple's Secure Enclave, so "AirTags" may have their own form of secure data storage.

Battery, packaging, and accessories

Text snippets found in an iOS 13 build suggest that "AirTags" could run on removable batteries. That could suggest a longer battery life than standard rechargeable lithium-ion cells, and easy replacement with watch or similar batteries.

In April, a Bloomberg report suggested that each "AirTag" could come bundled with a keychain and a leather sleeve.

Apple may also have created a set of custom sounds and haptic feedback patterns specifically for AirTags and updated functionality in the Find My app. That's per leaked code in a build of the upcoming iOS 14 update.

How much will "AirTags" cost?

There has been no substantial evidence for a firm "AirTags" price point, but we can take a look at Apple's competitors for a clue. Tile sells trackers between $25 to $35, but they don't support the same breadth of features as "AirTags" could.

Because of that, it's likely that "AirTags" may carry a premium over competing products on the market.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    1) I assume one would attach this tracker to a keychain and not the key itself. 

    2) I hope Apple doesn't add too much of a premium. The cheaper they are, the more things I will be interested in tracking.  I wasn't interested in Tile mostly for price reasons.  I've never lost my keys but now I'm thinking it would really suck to lose them.

    3) As much as we'd like to be able to replace the battery, it would be very unlike Apple to give us that option. Maybe they'll have Qi charging capability? If so, perhaps you could charge the AirTag by putting it against the back of an iPhone, much like that capability some phones have to charge another phone.

     
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 15
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,515member
    What Tile patents might have been used in Apple AirTags? Is Apple in the clear or will there be another lawsuit? Tile produces the same type of item so it’s not a non practicing patent troll. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 15
    F_Kent_DF_Kent_D Posts: 53unconfirmed, member
    rob53 said:
    What Tile patents might have been used in Apple AirTags? Is Apple in the clear or will there be another lawsuit? Tile produces the same type of item so it’s not a non practicing patent troll. 
    Apple will most likely be caught up in another lawsuit just because it’s Apple coming up with a device that’s better and sells more units. Google sells similar devices to the iPhone with the notch and all but there’s no lawsuit there so just because it’s a like-product doesn’t warrant a lawsuit but because it’s a like-product from Apple there will be a lawsuit.
    svanstromcornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 15
    Tile already uses Bluetooth of other Tile equipped devices to enhance tracking of lost/missing tagged items. That Apple “feature” will not be anything new or special.

    Also, Tile makes a thin, card sized tile that is perfect for slipping into a wallet, passport or checkbook.

    Replaceable batteries are something Tile eventually came around to after years of pleading by users.

    I have been using Tile since it came out and have had pretty good service from them, so Apple is going to have to earn the business. I am sure most Tile owners are in that category. Just because it is from Cupertino does not mean it is better or worth more money.

    And, please, can we dispense with the white plastic?
    edited September 2020 chemengin1
  • Reply 5 of 15
    Rechargeable batteries is a possibility.  Replaceable batteries isn’t likely in a device that small.

    I won’t be an early adopter because of the potential fire risk... until it’s proven safe.
  • Reply 6 of 15
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,605member
    davgreg said:
    Tile already uses Bluetooth of other Tile equipped devices to enhance tracking of lost/missing tagged items. That Apple “feature” will not be anything new or special.

    Also, Tile makes a thin, card sized tile that is perfect for slipping into a wallet, passport or checkbook.

    Replaceable batteries are something Tile eventually came around to after years of pleading by users.

    I have been using Tile since it came out and have had pretty good service from them, so Apple is going to have to earn the business. I am sure most Tile owners are in that category. Just because it is from Cupertino does not mean it is better or worth more money.

    And, please, can we dispense with the white plastic?
    My understanding is that the Tile "tags" requires the Tile app installed on one's personal iPhone in order for it to work.  Meaning, if my property gets stolen for example, unless someone else happens to have the Tile app, it's considered good as gone.  This was one of the primary reasons why I didn't buy Tile's product.  I'm not concerned too much about losing my keys as I am having something of value stolen and getting it back.

    Apple's method is far, FAR more superior.  So long as there's an iPhone around, any iPhone from any user, can ping the tag and in turn, send the info back to me.  No 3rd-party app necessary.  That's a game changer.  Apple will have little to do to earn my business.  I'm thinking things like stolen luggage at an airport, or home burglary.  
    svanstromretrogustowatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 15
    The privacy first aspect of “Nearby Interactions” and UWB is way ahead of Tile et al, I’ve been a Tile user since day 1 but the privacy issue and the hindrance of needing another Tile user rather than the many millions of iOS users is Tile’s Achilles’ heel.  Not sure about Tile’s policy on sharing location data but I’d be worried about them or their less viable competitors cashing out with my data. Sort of like what Google allowed with it’s “embrace,  extend, and sell” of iBeacons. 
    Apple has learned to be a little more careful than the companies that claim the low hanging fruit. I suggest that most of Apple’s contribution to the COVID-19 contact tracing is a product of Apple’s work on AirTag privacy and that Googles contribution was just adapting it to droid. 
    stourquewatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 15
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,350moderator
    williamh said:
    1) I assume one would attach this tracker to a keychain and not the key itself. 

    2) I hope Apple doesn't add too much of a premium. The cheaper they are, the more things I will be interested in tracking.  I wasn't interested in Tile mostly for price reasons.  I've never lost my keys but now I'm thinking it would really suck to lose them.

    3) As much as we'd like to be able to replace the battery, it would be very unlike Apple to give us that option. Maybe they'll have Qi charging capability? If so, perhaps you could charge the AirTag by putting it against the back of an iPhone, much like that capability some phones have to charge another phone.

     Keys really should become a thing of the past.  Just another feature of a phone or wearable.  

    edited September 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 15
    fred1fred1 Posts: 774member
    Apple's method is far, FAR more superior.  So long as there's an iPhone around, any iPhone from any user, can ping the tag and in turn, send the info back to me.  No 3rd-party app necessary.  That's a game changer.  Apple will have little to do to earn my business.  I'm thinking things like stolen luggage at an airport, or home burglary.  
    My understanding is that it use the Find My app on the iPhone which would mean that you’d have to give permission before someone can track it. This means that not just anyone with an iPhone could find your Air Tag. 

    On a different note, having worked in a design service profession all my life, it must be nice to be able to work on a product design and manufacturing with no deadlines, just various rumors to stimulate interest. 
  • Reply 10 of 15
    Theoretically, the tag is to match things together, one to one , one to many or many to many, all of these things are manage by, belong or related to an Apple ID, and as iDevices has a ability to identify the user by Touch/Face ID, there are many interesting application of this tag.
    For example, a Mac recognize a tag, the tag match with an iPhone, after some “handshake”, the Mac can access the iCloud of the specific Apple ID or even the whole settings, 30 “Clean” Mac in the room for 30 personal tags, but the tag may just for Mac, not for unlock some room door, or it is able to start up a car belong to specific fleet, security guard patrol car, executive Mercedes or the truck?
    Why don't just make iPhone does these all?
    The Tag is for work or even just a specific job, set an apple ID access right for Type A/B/C tag is more efficient, and the iPhone may belong to you, want to lost a tag or your personal mobile? 

    The tag works like a dynamic key for almost everything, Goodbye to RFID Staff Card, USB key, Swipe Card, Room keys, Car keys.....
    is it possible or just my silly thought?
  • Reply 11 of 15
    fred1 said:
    Apple's method is far, FAR more superior.  So long as there's an iPhone around, any iPhone from any user, can ping the tag and in turn, send the info back to me.  No 3rd-party app necessary.  That's a game changer.  Apple will have little to do to earn my business.  I'm thinking things like stolen luggage at an airport, or home burglary.  
    My understanding is that it use the Find My app on the iPhone which would mean that you’d have to give permission before someone can track it. This means that not just anyone with an iPhone could find your Air Tag. 

    On a different note, having worked in a design service profession all my life, it must be nice to be able to work on a product design and manufacturing with no deadlines, just various rumors to stimulate interest. 
    What I find incredible is the number of people who comment on a topic without reading the article.  It's fine to read the comments without reading the article; but don't then comment yourself!  If that's not the case, why is it so hard to understand the concept of Air Tags?  I'm not going to explain it to you, read it again and again until understand how it will work.  The point in fact is that just anyone with an iPhone WILL find your Air Tag!  Nowhere near "the same as Tile."

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 15
    Seems like this would be perfect for attaching to toddlers. Then you could just let them roam free and you’d always be able to find them. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 15
    These are GREAT! My friend works as a private investigator (ex-Mossad agent) - this will make it easy to track clients and cars, arrange direct hits. Just love apple tech! 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 15
    I love my Tile Mate locators, and they’re less expensive than the article says - well under $20 each in a set of four, and there are other discounts available. Their batteries are replaceable and can be used to locate your phone from your keys as well as the other way around. My Tiles have saved my bacon scores of times. I’ve never used them to locate a truly lost item, but I lose my keys and phone in the house all the time.

    The biggest advantage the future Apple devices will have is that the crowdsourced locating capability apparently won’t require a specific app to be installed like Tile does. I’m guessing that anyone with the latest OS becomes a “finding assistant” for a tag marked as lost. If that’s the case, I’ll probably have a mixture of Apple tags and my existing Tiles.

    Or... Could/will Apple open up the API and location system to third-party tags like Tile?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 15
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,605member
    fred1 said:
    Apple's method is far, FAR more superior.  So long as there's an iPhone around, any iPhone from any user, can ping the tag and in turn, send the info back to me.  No 3rd-party app necessary.  That's a game changer.  Apple will have little to do to earn my business.  I'm thinking things like stolen luggage at an airport, or home burglary.  
    My understanding is that it use the Find My app on the iPhone which would mean that you’d have to give permission before someone can track it. This means that not just anyone with an iPhone could find your Air Tag. 

    On a different note, having worked in a design service profession all my life, it must be nice to be able to work on a product design and manufacturing with no deadlines, just various rumors to stimulate interest. 
    I've been keeping an eye on this product since it was first discovered a while back, and reading anything and everything about it.  This is a product I would totally buy.  Not sure where you're getting your info, or whether you even read the article in its entirety, but ANY iPhone with Bluetooth turned on - which means most iPhones - will be able to receive a ping from any AirTag belonging to any user and quietly and securely transmit   A stranger's iPhone will require no approval to interact with another individual's AirTag.  

    A great example would be an airport luggage handler stealing someone's luggage with an AirTag hidden in it, and unbeknownst to the thief, his own iPhone would would essentially end up getting him caught.  I'm totally game for this!
    ricmacwatto_cobra
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