“Come on. I’m right here, in your unnecessarily puffy coat. No, not that pocket – the one with the stale muffin crumbs and the crumpled CVS receipt.
Thankfully, my oft-misplaced work ID can’t tell me how I really feel, but it’s now communicating with me through the $ 29 Apple AirTag tracker I attached to it. Right now it says it’s 7ft to the left, and probably on another floor, which would put it in my guest bedroom closet.
Lost object trackers, the high-tech savior of the forgetful, are nothing new. Attach these little Bluetooth doodads to items you fear losing (keys, wallet, bag, pet) and they communicate their location to your phone. Tile, one of the pioneers in the field, sells four different flavors for iPhone and Android, ranging from the $ 25 Tile Mate to the $ 35 Pro. Samsungof
got his $ 30 SmartTag for Galaxy phones. Now, Apple’s AirTag for capsule-sized iPhone owners has arrived, and it’s overthrowing others in the global game of hide and seek.
After two weeks of “losing” items with those trackers attached, AirTags, along with my iPhone’s Find My Companion app, turned out to be the best. Whether it’s a remote control stuck between the sofa cushions or Wasabi, my drug detection dog on loan at the park (see video for this story), two unique Apple technologies got me right to them. .
Yet Apple’s smallest gadget also enables two big threats in today’s technological world: the ever-expanding control and consolidation of a giant corporation, and a large and powerful network that could easily be abused by. bad actors. Let me help you find your way.
These trackers work best when you’ve misplaced your belongings nearby, which I did long before our long year of house arrest in the event of a pandemic. (Yes, of course, the glasses I was looking for are on my head!)
AirTags and other lost object trackers use low-power Bluetooth to stay connected to your phone, potentially up to several hundred feet away. Strength and range depend on many factors, including any obstacles that might lie in between. When the two are in contact, the phone app will indicate that the tracker is nearby and allow you to set off an alarm on the small disk, so you can use your ears to find it.
I scientifically tested the sounds by dropping all three of them into the Upside Down which is my backpack, then seeing what I could hear best in a room about 30 feet away. The AirTag’s chirp, while certainly audible, was significantly lower and softer than the Tile Pro’s melodic alarm. Samsung’s tracker was also louder and its volume can be adjusted with its app.
Apple’s search for precision makes up for that weak voice. In addition to Bluetooth, the AirTags contain Apple’s U1 ultra-wideband chip. If you have an iPhone 11 or later (models with their own U1 chips), you can get precise directional information about the location of your AirTag.
Tap the Find Nearby button in the Find My app when the AirTag is nearby, and a giant arrow will guide you where to look. As you will see in my video, Apple can even sense when something is above you, suggesting looking on another floor. Tile and Samsung do not have this equivalent talent.
People who constantly lose things are of course at risk of losing their AirTags – and Apple’s tag, unlike Tile’s and Samsung’s tags, doesn’t have a handy keychain. Naturally, Apple is ready to sell you a selection of media, including a $ 35 leather keychain and the not at all extravagant $ 449 Hermès luggage tag. Fortunately, third-party options are available for around $ 10.
Find far away
But what happens now that we are leaving our homes and losing stuff all over the place again? A billion iPhones help you watch, that’s what’s happening.
When an AirTag isn’t near your iPhone, it uses other Apple devices to report its location on the Find My network. Anytime an iPhone, iPad, or Mac is within Bluetooth range of an AirTag, it can quickly connect to it and report that location to the AirTag owner. This is done through an encrypted and anonymous background connection. My colleague Christopher Mims recently explained how it all works.
And it really works. When I asked my video producer, Kenny Wassus, to hide my fanny pack with an AirTag, Tile Pro, and Samsung Galaxy SmartTag on a public street corner, it only took four minutes for the AirTag’s location updates itself in the Find My app via an iPhone pass-through. Tile and Samsung kept saying the bag was where I had it before.
Tile has a similar connected network, but relies on others having Tile’s iPhone or Android app. The company has sold more than 35 million units to date, in 195 countries. It will work soon with Amazonof
Sidewalk network of home appliances. Samsung has a network that also works with other Galaxy phones. Yet neither can match Apple’s instantaneous vastness.
The most surprising test was using the AirTag as a lost animal tracker on an adorable detection dog named Wasabi. (Don’t worry, Wasabi was accompanied by his owner and trainer, who works for security company 3DK9.) I outfitted his collar with an AirTag and a GPS-enabled Whistle Go Explore, which uses the cellular network. AT&T to provide live location data. The Whistle app showed me exactly where the dog was heading – first on the freeway, then in the park. The AirTag, about five minutes after the dog arrived at the park, had spotted its location near the waterfront.
Apple does not market AirTags as pet trackers. The $ 150 whistle was faster, but I would still prefer an AirTag on my dog’s collar. The Whistle requires a subscription for connectivity, as well as regular battery charging. (It’s also a canine fitness tracker.) An AirTag’s battery should last a year, and you can replace it yourself.
What if a nice stranger stumbles upon your lost item? If you put their AirTag in lost mode in the Find My app, the stranger could touch it on an iPhone to see the return information. But don’t count on it: even knowing how to do it, I only got it to work properly by precisely holding the label on the top of the back of the iPhone.
It’s Apple’s tight control over iPhone hardware and software that gives AirTags a huge head start over Tile. Apple has announced plans to open up its ultra-broadband detection capabilities to third-party developers like Tile, but that’s not yet the case. My iPhone is also bothering me with pop-ups indicating that the Tile app is tracking my location in the background. If I want the harassment to stop, I have to turn off the app’s location services, which effectively turns off the whole purpose of the thing.
These drawbacks are exactly what the 150-person company argued before Congress. “To be clear, we welcome competition, but it has to be fair competition. Apple’s idea of competition is blatantly unfair, ”Kirsten Daru, Tile’s general counsel, told an antitrust hearing in the Senate last month.
An Apple spokesperson said the company is working to “help protect the privacy of users’ location data, by giving users transparency and control over how all apps can access and share their data. location.” The company also launched its Find My platform so that other accessory makers can use the search power and privacy of all iPhones. CJ Prober, managing director of Tile, has no plans to join the Find My network because of the “unprecedented control” it would give Apple over its business. People should use Apple’s Find My app instead of Tile to find lost items, which would make the service inoperable with Android and limit the company’s ability to offer differentiated features, I told me. he says.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
What items do you lose most often? Would a tracker help you locate them? Join the conversation below.
And while Apple emphasizes its strong commitment to privacy and security, bad actors can and will come. A small device easily used to identify a dog can be easily used to identify a human. And if people have one on them unknowingly – or hidden in their purses or cars – it would just take a day or two to find out where they live, work, or go to school.
Apple has deterrents against their use for harassment. On the one hand, if you arrive home with an unknown AirTag, that is, not registered in your account, you will receive a notification on your iPhone if it is running iOS 14.5 or later. Having an iPhone is the key to this protection – it doesn’t work with Android phones. Additionally, if an AirTag has been separated from its registered owner for more than 72 hours, it will sound its alarm. But again, this alarm is not that loud. (Tile says it will soon be introducing its own antistalking features for Android and iPhone.)
Am I suggesting you don’t buy an AirTag – or 25 of them – to keep tabs on your important things that always go missing? No. I’m just reminding you of the giant implications that come with using this little device.
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Write to Joanna Stern at [email protected]
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