Apple have recently released their AirTag tracking product. The Apple AirTag allows you to ‘tag’ any physical commodity and to easily track it in the Apple ‘Find My App’ ecosystem.
The concept is simple, attach an Apple AirTag to your keys, camera backpack, musical instrument, bike etc. Add it to your iCloud account and instantly the item appears on the radar within the Find My app on your iPhone. The device is small and easily concealed in a camera bag; Apple do offer keyring attachments but surprisingly they cost as much and in cases more than the Apple AirTag.
I see the advantage of keyring attachments but for camera bags or musical instruments I think subtly is key. If someone ‘steals’ your instrument or bag of expensive camera gear the first thing they will do is discard the obvious AirTag dangling from the back. There is an additional concern about tracking stolen items later in the post.
How it works
The Apple AirTag regularly sends out a secure Bluetooth signal that can be detected by any nearby devices in Apple’s Find My network (not just your own). These devices send the location of your AirTag to iCloud which then appears on your ‘Find My’ map. The process is anonymous and encrypted to protect your privacy.
Setting Up and Apple AirTag
Setting up an AirTag literally takes seconds. Open the AirTag packaging, peeling off the plastic over and your iPhone (when nearby) will ask you if you want to add the AirTag. A few seconds later and the AirTag is linked to YOUR iCloud, interestingly ‘Camera’ was one of the default options.
How to Ping an Apple AirTag
You can ‘ping’ the Apple AirTag from the Find My app. The alarm is certainly audible even with the AirTag placed in a large camera bag. If your AirTag is nearby, your iPhone can lead you straight to it with Precision Finding (iPhone 11 up). This is really quite impressive, and the ultra-wide band technology provides a reasonably accurate distance and direction indication. To be honest the large camera bag three feet in front of me was pretty obvious 🙂
What about unwanted AirTag Tracking?
Given the size of the Apple AirTag the device could be misused. Fear not Apple have addressed the fear of unwanted tracking. If an AirTag that isn’t associated with your account is sensed by your Apple device (over a prolonged period), you will begin to get notifications on your phone. There is some discussion online that this only starts after 8hours/24 hours.
Over time the notifcations eventually include an audible alert from the AirTag to make it easy to find. Apple has addressed the issue should a friend or family member be with you alerts are only triggered if the AirTag is out of range from the original owner’s devices.
AirTag Tracking a Problem?
The unwanted tracking feature is obviously very welcome from a privacy point of view, however a few concerns exist. What if I head out and leave my camera bag at home? Will the remaining members of my family be plagued by alerts from the AirTag? Or if I get one for my car keys and my wife takes my car? Will this again lead to annoying alerts?
Family Sharing with AirTags
It should be noted that AirTags are linked to a single iCloud account, this means devices tracked by a tag are only visible on that iCloud account. It would be nice to be able to share tracking with other members of the same family account.
Tracking Stolen Items?
Finally, if the Apple AirTag is going to alert nearby users of its presence then it will also notify my would be camera thief that the bag is tracked? I agree one hundred percent that privacy should always be of paramount importance, I was really excited about the product but the device may be self limiting by default.
After a bit more research, Apple have stated that AirTags are not designed to track stolen items but are to be used to help you find things you have lost. This may be a bit of a disclaimer though.
It’s only been a few days so I will update this post in the next few months as I progress along my Apple AirTag journey. Perhaps the forum discussions are more fear than fact?
Four days in and there have been no signs of alerts to family members while I am away. Perhaps the AirTag goes dormant unless it is moved? Or maybe dormant when it’s at home?