Apple's AirTags can be attached to your belongings so that if/when you misplace them you can easily track them down. But how close do you need to be to the AirTag in order to locate it?
This was the important question that Apple left unanswered at the keynote: How far do the AirTag signals go?
[Want to know more about AirTags? Read our guide to AirTags]
It's not so much of how close do you need to be to the AirTag - it's really a question of how close to other Bluetooth enabled gadgets capable of broadcasting your items location does your lost AirTag need to be before you can locate it.
This is because the way that the AirTag works is that it broadcasts it's location using low energy Bluetooth and other devices are able to pick up its location and relay that to the Find My service. The problem here is that if you lose your AirTag somewhere where there are unlikely to be any iPhones, Macs, or even Android devices capable to picking up its signal, you won't be able to find it.
So the question of how much distance needs to be between your AirTag and the relaying device is an important one and we aren't alone in asking the question. However, if you look into Apple's technical information the company doesn't elaborate.
Apple does indicate that the trackers include Bluetooth, U1 and an NFC module - three antennas that provide connectivity. But Apple doesn't give any information about the generation or specification any of these technologies - not even Bluetooth.
Luckily the official records of the US FCC, the Federal Communication Commission, with which all radio devices must be registered before the manufacturer can sell them, offer a little more information.
According to these test documents, the AirTags were primarily tested for their Bluetooth radio. Apple does not name the generation, but the standard: Bluetooth Low Energy. This is quite logical, since the devices are supposed to provide a year's battery life.
According to the technical specifications of this standard the range of the waves is less than 100 meters. This limit shifts significantly downwards if there is no direct visual contact between the transmitter and receiver. In rooms, i.e. with obstacles, the range will probably amount to 15 to 45 meters. This is what Chipolo, manufacturer of comparable tags, found out.
U1, Apple's ultra-broadband chip found in the iPhone 11 or newer, transmits at even higher frequencies of 6.24GHz and 8.2368GHz, and their range is correspondingly shorter: between ten and fifty meters. To do this, the chip can pinpoint the lost tags to within a few centimetres. This 'Precision Finding' will only works for U1-capable iPhones, i.e. iPhone 11 and iPhone 12.
Somewhat surprisingly, there is an NFC chip in AirTags, but this is not relevant for the search and localisation, as the data transmission only works over a distance of a few centimetres.
Apple explains that in lost mode, every NFC-enabled cell phone, including Android smartphones, can read the owner's contact information from the AirTag and so that the AirTag owner can locate their device. Just don't lose your AirTagged belongings in the middle of nowhere.
For ideas of how to use your AirTags read What to use AirTags for.
Based on an article on Macwelt.