It's been obvious for months, years even, 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 (iOS 13 went into public release in the autumn of 2019; we're now well into the public lifecycle of iOS 14).
In this article we discuss all the evidence for the existence 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.
Our latest additions are a video from Jon Prosser which apparently shows what the AirTags will look like, and the discovery of a giveaway tab in the Find My app which shows how AirTags-enabled items will be tracked.
We expect the AirTags to launch in spring 2021 - most likely March, alongside a raft of other new Apple products.
In fact the arrival of a third beta version of iOS 14.5 with a new option in Find My for locating non-Apple items does seem to hint that Apple is preparing to launch its tagging device. Read more about that here: What's in iOS 14.5.
Famed Apple leaker Jon Prosser also thinks we are likely to see the new AirTags in March 2021:
AirTags are still on for March.— Jon Prosser (@jon_prosser) February 12, 2021
Haven’t heard of any further delays this time. 🤞
We discuss when you can expect to see unveiled at Apple's next event in a separate article.
Prosser's previous forecast (made earlier in October 2020) suggested that the launch would happen in March 2021.
So, about AirTags.
This one hurts my heart...October 9, 2020
Apple originally planned to launch the AirTags in spring 2020, sources report, but the product was postponed as a result of COVID-19. (The pandemic caused production delays, but also created a situation where many of Apple's potential customers were stuck at home, with less need to track the location of their items.)
In late October 2020 Prosser tweeted that AirTags testing would finish on 6 November, and speculated that they would appear at the 'One More Thing' Apple event on 10 November. He was supported in this by fellow leaker L0vetodream, who suggested in October that the AirTags were "coming soon".
What are AirTags?
AirTag 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 seems that you will be able to attach it to items and then locate them later using the Find My app.
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.
Over the months there have been various leaks and concepts showing what the AirTag could look like (included below). At the beginning of January 2021 leaker Jon Prosser got his hands on what he claims is a Apple-made render showing how the AirTag will work. You can watch it in the video below and read more about that here: Jon Prosser video of AirTag.
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.
How AirTags will work
The evidence so far suggests that the AirTag will work with the Find My app. Indeed the iOS 14.5 beta includes a new section in that app for tracking items.
Under Support for Accessories Apple indicates that users will be able to "Add non-Apple products to Find My. Locate your backpack, luggage, headphones, or other items".
However, in an article, Macotakara suggested that the AirTags will be compatible with App Clips, which would allow users to download a smaller version of the app to do a specific task.
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.
You can see what AirTag tracking will look like by entering the text findmy://items into the Safari address bar on an iPhone or iPad running iOS 14 or iPadOS 14 respectively. This will open an apparently secret tab in the Find My app for Items:
It's fairly clear that any object to which you've attached an AirTag or other object tracker will be trackable on this screen, which offers to let you "add accessories or other items" and shows a key, rucksack and bike as examples.
In terms of how the AirTag actually works, 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 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 the AirTags' 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.
Price: How much will AirTags cost?
The Tile Mate, a simple tracker that feels like the closest equivalent to the AirTags as described in the leaks and rumours, has an RRP of £19.99/$24.99, although at time of writing it's available for £13.99/$17.99. But what if Apple goes for the Tile Sticker form factor? That officially retails for £34.99/$39.99 for a pair.
Assuming Apple plans to start its range with a relatively simple version of AirTags - perhaps rolling out a Pro model later on - then we should be looking at a price under £30/$30 per unit.
If Apple decides to hit the ground running with an upmarket model, of course, all bets are off.
For more information about what Apple will launch in the next 12 months, take a look at our guide to the new Apple products coming out in 2021. And check out the latest bargains in our roundup of the best Apple deals.