The rumours swirled for months about AirTags. They were coming. They weren’t coming. Apple was biding its time. Apple had given up on them. There are too many privacy concerns. They’re too hard to manufacture.
Then, during the opening of the Spring Loaded event in April, AirTags finally appeared.
And, boy did they look like the leaks.
I’ve ordered mine, and I’m both interested and dismayed to discover that the delivery date has already slipped back a couple of weeks. They should have been arriving today (30th April), but I’m now told that it could be as late as 18th May.
Whether this is due to a distribution network that’s still impacted by COVID is up for debate, but it’s also possible that Apple has experienced overwhelming demand for these little tracking devices.
Regardless, when they arrive, I’ll offer my full thoughts. But, first, I wanted to highlight what was easily one of Apple’s most considered, smartest announcements of 2021 so far.
A masterful launch
If you were expecting a half-hour slot for AirTags at the Spring Loaded Apple event, you’ll have been sorely disappointed.
It lasted a little over ten minutes.
I’ve never been a fan of long, drawn-out product reveals. It’s why I love these pre-recorded, online-only Apple events. They force Tim and co. to get to the nub of what matters far quicker. There’s no pause for applause, lengthy demonstrations by nervous execs or random appearances by Bono. We’re even spared the mind-numbingly boring technical demonstrations of games we’re never going to play.
When it comes to the detail, that’s where Apple’s brilliant website takes up the slack, and that’s exactly how it should be.
The AirTags announcement was a masterful example of this. During those ten minutes, we discovered their use cases, key benefits and how important the privacy element is for Apple. We didn’t need to know any more.
It was simple, relatively muted and made something of a mockery of the endless speculation about what is, let’s be honest, a stocking filler of a product for Apple.
More of this, please.
What I’ll be doing with mine
I have four AirTags on the way, but, like many, I’ve been pondering what on earth to do with them.
As others have pointed out, most of your stuff these days is either trackable already or has been digitally pared-down. For instance, I rarely take my wallet out with me, thanks to Apple Pay, and – although this really is tempting fate – I’ve never lost my car keys.
I don’t have much ‘stuff’, really. The AirTags strapline on Apple’s website is “Lose your knack for losing things”.
The problem is, I don’t lose things, really.
This is the biggest challenge AirTags have. They’re not intended as anti-theft devices, therefore if you’re going to buy one in the hope that it’ll give you the ultimate peace of mind when leaving your bike chained to a lamppost, you’re missing the point somewhat.
Apple wants you to attach AirTags to stuff you’re likely to misplace. So, with that in mind, I’ve come up with the following four use cases.
- My keys (that just seems like the default use case)
- My wallet (ok, so I thought I’d lost this about 18 months ago after a drunken night out, only to find that it had endured several hundred cycles in the washing machine)
- My backpack (I’ve never lost it, but I like the idea of being able to locate it quickly when I need to retrieve something)
- My dog (he sometimes disappears in the house and I want to know where he goes)
Am I clutching at straws? Possibly. While the keys and wallet do indeed feel like default choices for AirTags, the other two are the only other things I could think of.
I’ve heard some people suggest that AirTags aren’t intended for pets, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t be a good idea to attach one to my dog’s collar. In the unlikely event that he does properly go missing, I’ll at least have a better chance of locating him.
Plus, imagine how cool your dog would look with an AirTag around his neck.
This was something I was concerned about prior to the launch, but I knew that Apple wouldn’t unleash a product that in some way facilitated human trafficking or undercover surveillance.
One of AirTag’s greatest strengths is the hundreds of millions of Apple devices strewn across the planet. Those that contain the right chipset contribute to what is known as the Find My Network.
It’s such a smart, powerful idea by Apple and even has its own place on their support status page. In simple terms, it means that an AirTag can communicate with pretty much any iPhone, iPad or Mac nearby to send its approximate location directly to you.
No personal data is exchanged during this process and your identity and location is kept entirely secure. The owners of the devices that have helped you locate the lost AirTag have no idea, either (they don’t need to know – it has no bearing on their privacy).
Say what you like about Apple’s ecosystem and its ability to tie you in and continually empty your bank account, but this is seriously cool stuff that offers a genuine benefit, and AirTags feel like the culmination of the effort that’s gone into the Find My Network.
It bears repeating: Apple has no interest in the location of you or your AirTags and they make that abundantly clear throughout the marketing for these devices.
They appear to have thought about everything, security-wise. For instance, if an AirTag that isn’t yours is dropped into your bag, your iPhone will alert you to its presence. If you’re unable to locate it, the AirTag will start making a sound to help you out.
AirTags can also be scanned by both iPhones and Android devices to locate their owner. How’s that for cross-platform compatibility?
Two strange omissions
Apple always does this. Just when you think they’ve absolutely nailed a product, they seemingly neglect one or two obvious features.
When it comes to AirTags, there are two strange omissions (and I’m not talking about the lack of a built-in hole for your keyring – they were never going to do that).
The first is the inability to set AirTags up from a Mac. What if you only have that Apple device but want to make use of these great little trackers? It’s marginally understandable why they appear to be an iOS/iPadOS-only accessory at the moment, but the Find My app is also available on the Mac, and this decision appears to alienate a fair chunk of Apple users.
The second isn’t about AirTags per-say, but the tech that sits behind them. Why on earth haven’t the AirTag’s internals been soldered into the new Apple TV remote? Everyone has picked up on this following the announcement, and when it comes to “losing things”, nothing really beats the countless hours lost to scrabbling around the house looking for that damn TV remote.
Why do you do this, Apple?
Stay tuned for my full AirTags review.