It's been obvious for months that Apple is working on a new category of product: a wireless tracking tile, likely called AirTag. You'll be able to attach this to your wallet, keys and other important items and then track them in your Find My app, just as you can currently track the location of your iPhone, Apple Watch and MacBook.
The clues were first spotted in an internal beta of iOS 13, which gives an idea of how long we've been talking about this subject. In this article we discuss all the evidence for the existence and imminent launch of the AirTags, and analyse the latest leaks and rumours indicating when they will be released, what they will look like, and how they will work.
While we expect the AirTags to launch in November 2020, they remained unannounced at the 'One More Thing' 10 November event. What Apple announced instead was its brand new super-fast and super-efficient M1 chip, which is now available on a new MacBook Air, Mac mini and MacBook Pro – all of which can be ordered now.
Sources claim that Apple planned to launch the AirTags back in the spring of 2020, but the product was postponed due to COVID-19. (The pandemic caused production delays, but also created a situation where many of Apple's potential customers were stuck at home, with little requirement to track the location of their items.)
However, the evidence now suggests that the AirTags will finally be unveiled in November 2020. In late October leaker Jon Prosser tweeted that AirTags testing would finish on 6 November ready for the tags to launch within 30 days of that date.
Will the 10 November event come too soon for that timeframe? Perhaps - in which case we can expect them to be slipped out in a press release in the weeks afterwards. Although Prosser himself is so certain AirTags will appear on 10 November that he uses the word "sure" twice in the same sentence.
All final performance testing for AirTags (B389) will be 100% completed on November 6.— Jon Prosser (@jon_prosser) October 23, 2020
After this testing, products typically ship within 30 days.
Sure looks like we’re getting AirTags for sure at the November event.
Leaker L0vetodream also suggested in October that the AirTags could be "coming soon" and that there are in fact two AirTags: a big one and a small one.
big one— 有没有搞措 (@L0vetodream) October 20, 2020
All of this is a huge improvement on Prosser's previous forecast (made earlier in October 2020) when he suggested that the launch might be postponed until March 2021.
This may still happen, of course: by collecting a range of predictions, we hope to illustrate the degree of uncertainty that remains. It's just that the most recent predictions say November.
What are AirTags?
This is supposedly what Apple is calling its tracking device, although it's been referred to by some pundits as simply 'Tag' and also by the codename B389.
AirTag makes sense from a branding point of view, drawing on the popularity of the AirPods and highlighting the wireless aspect of the product. The company has long since abandoned the 'i' branding convention, so the main choices were AirTag or Apple Tag.
The product appears to be Apple's answer to the Tile range of products. It could take the form of a sticker which you apply to whatever you want to track but seems more likely to be a little circular disc with an Apple logo in the centre, as indicated by assets that appeared in the iOS 13 beta.
Further 'proof' that the AirTag will be a solid disc rather than a sticker comes from what may be a leaked manual that indicates that the device will charge wirelessly.
Here is a guide on charging AirTagls supposedly sent by Apple for print tests before mass production. AirPower is back? This is different to leaks saying a swappable coin battery would be used 🤔— Leaks (@caleblin_apple) September 5, 2020
Source: direct // Leaks by Caleb Lin pic.twitter.com/AbC4Foj01N
The same leaker has also posted images that are said to show how the AirTag will attach to a keyring.
Here is a diagram from the quick start showing how to attach AirTag to a keychain. Apologies for the blur.— Leaks (@caleblin_apple) September 5, 2020
According to the source the accompanying text says to use the "rubber loop", suggesting that this diagram is possibly a placeholder (or a loop just wasn't shown) pic.twitter.com/ci6zhxpCcG
The Twitter user Fudge has posted a photo of the leather accessory that will hold the AirTags disc and enable it to be used as a keyring. The leaker warns that this could be fake and advises readers to take it "with a bit of salt", but it largely corresponds with what other sources and patent activity have led us to believe.
Potentially AirTag carrying accessory in Saddle Brown.— Fudge (@choco_bit) November 9, 2020
Looks a lot like this previously reported patent, but take it with a bit of salt though since something similar is easily reproducible in China. pic.twitter.com/HHRi2p4Cyu
Macotakara reports that the AirTag will be not just water-resistant but "completely waterproof" - although we're depending on Google Chrome's translation from the Japanese for that phrase, and it's debatable exactly what it means. An IP rating of IPX8, one would imagine.
The evidence so far suggests that the AirTag will work with the Find My app. However, in another article, Macotakara has suggested that the AirTags will be compatible with App Clips, a new feature coming in iOS 14 that allows users to download a smaller version of an app to do a specific task.
How AirTags will work
The AirTags are expected to work something like this:
- You link your AirTag to your iCloud account.
- Attach AirTag to your keys, luggage, or whatever it is you don't want to lose.
- You will get a notification if you and your iPhone move out of range of the AirTag (so that you don't leave it at work, for example).
- If you do lose the tagged device you can use the Find My app to locate it. The app will use AR tech to direct you to your item.
- If you can't track it down you can mark it as lost. Then, when someone finds it, you will receive a notification and they will get your contact details so they can return the item to you.
In terms of how the AirTag actually works (the magic behind it) Electronic Design (via MacRumors, again) notes that the AirTag will use UWB, which "is able to effectively measure distance between two devices with 5 to 10cm accuracy, compared to roughly 5m accuracy for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth".
UWB is used by the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, which suggests the AirTag may only work with those handsets (as well as later devices such as the iPhone 12 range).
It's thought that users will receive a notification on their iPhone should they move out of range of the tag, which should stop you leaving your keys in the office. You will apparently be able to add certain locations that can be ignored, though - if an item is safely in your house, for example.
If you lose your tagged item you can attempt to locate it on the Find My app because the AirTag (or whatever it will be called) will transmit its location using this low power form of Bluetooth and other Bluetooth devices will relay the location back to you via the Find My app.
If you can't locate your tagged item you can mark it as lost. It seems that once it's marked as lost if someone passes within range they will receive a notification on their phone with your contact details allowing them to contact you to return the device.
Evidence for AirTag's existence
Why are we so sure this product is coming? A surprising amount of evidence has leaked out via assets that appeared in the iOS 13 beta last year, and even earlier in 2019 sources confirmed to 9to5Mac that an object tracker project was underway at Apple.
9to5Mac first reported that Apple was working on a Tag back in April 2019. At that time the site wrote about the new Find My app, which hadn't yet been released; it indicated that people involved in the development of the app were aware of a new hardware device codenamed 'B389' that would allow users to track any item.
Then, in June 2019, 9to5Mac reported that there were references to this Tag device in iOS 13. The first beta of iOS 13 included an asset package for a device with the product type 'Tag1,1'.
MacRumors also wrote about an internal build of iOS 13 that incorporated graphical assets including an image of what appears to be the tracker itself. This may be placeholder art or an earlier prototype, however, and the final released product may look significantly different.
An updated interface for the new version of the Find My app was found in a beta of iOS 13 in September 2019. This app (which now combines the old Find My iPhone and Find My Friends apps into a single interface) had three panes: People, Devices, and Items. The first two correspond to friends and Apple products, but the third points to the use of a tracker to tag other objects.
The September screenshots obtained by MacRumours also include the codename for the device - B389. Along with the words "Tag your everyday items with B389 and never lose them again".
Pundits believe the interface will let you view tagged objects in AR (augmented reality), as evidenced by balloon illustrations that appear in assets. It's thought that red and orange balloons will indicate the location of the item using AR technology.
The abundance of evidence is enough for respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo to give the rumours his backing. In a research note in September 2019 Kuo said the tags will be based on UWB (ultra-wideband) technology, which uses minimal power and offers highly accurate location tracking within a building.
Interested to know what else Apple's got planned for 2020? Our predictions article covers the full 12 months.