Apple AirTags are accessible, but their Achilles heel is an inaccessible battery cover – Forbes

Apple AirTags are accessible, but their Achilles heel is an inaccessible battery cover – Forbes

I spent the last week on vacation in San Diego visiting family and visiting places like the San Diego Zoo. My partner and I decided to head to SoCal from San Francisco because we flew a lot this first quarter of the year and wanted to keep the momentum going. As an Apple-centric household, we’ve decorated our luggage (among other items) with AirTags so we can track our bags as they move around SFO, especially making sure they arrive at our final destination. When I’m not traveling on a plane, I always have an AirTag on my keychain and in my wallet to keep track of them every day. They give great peace of mind.

During the trip, several of our AirTags displayed low battery notifications on our respective iPhones. This is important not only from a power perspective, but also because Apple says in the Find My app that low battery on an AirTag means “some features are not available.” Having brought a pack of necessary CR2032 batteries, I attempted to go to the Apple Store closest to our Airbnb to ask an employee to help me.

As accessible as AirTags are (to cite just one example, VoiceOver users can ask the screen reader to give verbal directions to their location), it turns out the little idiots are inaccessible in terms of access to the battery compartment. Apple’s instructions, whether online or in the Find My app, are clear and concise, but the mechanism by which you open and close the compartment requires a level of hand-eye coordination that not everyone can reach. Namely, no matter how hard I tried to change the battery myself, I couldn’t open the AirTags. It’s a classic exercise, futile and literally painful, as my palms turn red trying to press and twist according to Apple’s instructions. My aforementioned visit to the Apple Store was a last resort; surely, someone out there could help me just replace the batteries.

It turned out not to be the case A person who helped – it was four people.

There I stood at the table showcasing the Vision Pro demo units, watching in awe for a full 15 minutes as four very kind and very intrepid Apple Store employees tried in vain to open the AirTags in order to change the batteries. One tried to put lotion on his hands, another on his shirt. Yet another tried using one of the $19 microfiber polishing cloths; All these valiant attempts ultimately failed. With reddened palms and dampened spirits, a passing employee joined the charge. He picked up an AirTag and put it between his palms, turned it slightly, and suddenly the battery cover fell harmlessly onto the table. We all cheered for this long-awaited, arduous triumph, in a way that Padres fans will celebrate if the team ever wins a World Series championship at Petco Park.

The purpose of this anecdote is to illustrate the hilarity of the situation. He should not take four people to access the battery compartment of an AirTag. I praised Apple in my Vision Pro review earlier this week for its mastery of magnetism in products like Vision Pro, as well as in the iPad Smart Cover and MagSafe Battery. As I warned in my article, I’m not a materials engineer, but in the case of AirTags, it surely would have been better if Apple used magnets to open and close the battery cover. My fine motor skills are definitely not the precision model, which is why I so appreciate how easy it is to, for example, get the MagSafe battery on my iPhone. This is also why I think the argument for full adoption of USB-C is somewhat overblown. As with any other disability, not everyone has the luxury of typical fine motor skills. Apple’s design for AirTags assumes that the user can negotiate these movements – that’s just not true for everyone.

Apple should re-evaluate this aspect of AirTags if they are ever updated.

Overall, AirTags are a great help and much more accessible than our Tile trackers of old. Their tight integration with iOS is superb, both functionally and in terms of accessibility. I just wish I didn’t break out in a cold sweat every time my phone tells me my AirTags need a new battery.


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