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AirTag Tracker Confusion

Posted on Thursday, May 13th, 2021

Dave!And so my set of Apple AirTags arrived today. These small devices can be attached to stuff in your life that you're always losing, then tracked down with your Apple Device (like an iPhone). They use near-field Bluetooth technology, which uses far less power for better battery life than regular Bluetooth, but with a far shorter range.

So let's get to it, shall we?

BUT BEFORE WE BEGIN: No need to comment about privacy concerns, security concerns, tracking concerns, and all the other issues that always get brought up when I talk about "smart" technology... especially smart technology that is designed to track stuff. I am aware. Apple addresses "unwanted tracking" on their site and (hopefully) any initial security problems will be quickly resolved given Apple's "privacy is important to us" mantra. We'll see. In the meanwhile, I want to be able to track my crap. But is Apple AirTag the way to do it?

AirTags cost $29 each, which is middle-to-average for the tracking devices I've seen. Tile "Mate" trackers are $24.99... Tile "Pro" trackers are $34.99. I ordered an AirTag 4-Pack for $99, which makes the cost a more reasonable $24.75 each. Like many Apple items, they offer free engraving for each AirTag. You can choose from an assortment of emojis, numbers, monogram initials, and such. Each AirTag has room for four characters, but I liked the idea of just one big emoji in the middle of each one...

Apple's AirTag Engraving Editor... showing a big smiling emoji in the middle of an AirTag.

The package is typical Apple minimalist style...

Apple's AirTag packaging, which is just plain white with a picture of an AirTag puck and the word AirTag on it.

I (foolishly?) ripped it open from the top, which made a mess of the box...

Shreded flaps from my trying to open a glued Apple AirTags box.

It was then that I saw Apple means for you to open the thing from the bottom of the box where they conveniently have a strip to unseal it so you can easily pull it open. Oops. But, in my defense, how often does somebody want you to open the packaging from the bottom?

Flaps on an Apple AirTags box.

Inside were my four AirTags along with safety sheets and instructions on how to activate them...

An opened Apple AirTags box with the four AirTags seated in an instruction card.

The AirTags themselves are pure Apple quality. The backs (where you open them to change the battery) are metal. The engraving on the fronts is so nice that it looks like they are screen-printed buttons or something...

The emojis etched on my AirTags include Smiley Face, Skull, Winky Face, and Alien.

If your iPhone is on, you can just bring the tags close to it one-by-one to get them assigned to you and your Apple iCloud account. Or you can open up the Find My app and add them manually...

The AirTags add new item screen on my iPhone.

After you unwrap the AirTag and pull the plastic separating the battery, it immediately becomes active so you can pair it with your account...

My iPhone searching for AirTags.

There is a list of custom names you can choose from (backpack, keys, wallet, etc.) or you can enter a custom name and choose an emoji to represent it...

An opened Apple AirTags box with the four AirTags seated in an instruction card.

When it comes to items I lose most, it's 1) My keys. 2) My wallet. 3) the TV remote. I put the fourth AirTag in my backpack... not because I lose it, but because if it's stolen I'd like to be able to find it.

I ordered a keychain holder for one of my AirTags, but it hasn't arrived yet. I ordered a sticker patch to plaster an AirTag on my TV remote, but it hasn't arrived yet either. So about the only AirTag I can use right out of the gate is the one for my wallet. I had been using a "Slim" Tile Tracker in my wallet, which was 1/3 the height of an AirTag, but Apple hasn't released a thin version yet, so I guess I'll have a bump in my wallet until they do...

An opened Apple AirTags box with the four AirTags seated in an instruction card.

I started carrying my wallet in my front pocket years ago for both comfort and safety while traveling, so this isn't a terribly big deal. But still... I hope Apple is coming out with a thin version real soon now (or that Tile makes their slim version compatible with the Apple Find My Network).

And then there's the actual "tracking" part.

Once you've paired your AirTags with your Apple ID, they show up in the Find My app under "Items"...

A list of my stuff in the Find My app, including Backpack, Keys, Wallet, and TV Remote.

Clicking on any of them brings up a screen which allows you to tell the AirTag to play a sound so you can hear where it is if it's near... but also track down the item with your Apple device. Since there are no iPhone users in my area, I had to use only the Bluetooth Near Field local scanning...

My iPhone saying SEARCH FOR SIGNAL... TRY MOVING TO A DIFFERENT LOCATION.

I read somewhere that the range on AirTags is 100ft. That wasn't even remotely the case for me... after multiple tests I found it to be 20 feet at best. When looking for my wallet, which I left on a chair in another room, the range in connecting to it was about 17 feet...

My iPhone saying CONNECTION IS WEAK... TRY MOVING TO A DIFFERENT LOCATION.

Because Near Field Bluetooth is directional, your phone can literally point you in the right direction to retrieve your stuff...

My iPhone saying DAVID'S WALLET IS 15 FEET AHEAD with an arrow showing the direction.

Then it's a wandering game until you land right near the device...

My iPhone saying DAVID'S WALLET IS HERE.

   
And now that brings us to the talking points about Apple AirTags...

• SIZE & DESIGN — Diameter-wise, it's considerably smaller than a Tile Tracker... but a hair taller. The little pucks are very pretty to look at, but less practical than a Tile Tracker because there's no hole to use for attaching it to stuff, which means extra money because you have to buy AirTag accessories (like my keychain holder that's not here yet)...

Shreded flaps from my trying to open a glued Apple AirTags box.

• GETTING LOST — If you cannot connect to the AirTag locally... you can try to find it on the Apple Find My Network... assuming there are any of the hundreds of millions of Apple Devices nearby to see it. You can also put it in "Lost Mode," where you enter your phone number so you can be contacted if it's found. Or, if it's spotted by the Apple Find My Network, you'll be notified with its location when it shows up. If somebody physically finds it, they can bring it close to their iPhone or Android phone and a webpage with your contact information shows up so they can let you know they found it. It's all pretty slick. But, again, anything outside of 20 feet or so is entirely dependent on other people with Apple iPhones wandering around in order for the Apple Find My Network to grab a location.

• SPY TRACKER — Naturally there is a concern that somebody could drop an AirTag in your pocket so they can track your location. Or maybe they put it in your car or whatever. Regardless, if an AirTag is traveling with you, then you're supposed to get an "AIRTAG FOUND MOVING WITH YOU" alert. Then you can find the AirTag and take out it's battery to disable it so peoaple can't use it to spy on you. There has been reports of people hacking the tracking URL or something, which has been deemed problematic, so I'm guessing Apple will get on a fix for that. Hopefully.

• NOTIFICATIONS — Assumably because of the low power mode of the AirTags themselves, you do not receive notification when they are back in range or spotted by the Apple Find My Network right away. It takes a while. Minutes. This is definitely an issue when speed is of the essence, but I guess it's a trade-off Apple had to make. But it gets worse... when you turn on the "Notify When Found" option, I assumed that a text message would pop up telling me when my phone came back into range. But NOPE! I didn't get any notification at all after walking down the street and activating it then coming back to where my item was. Then, when I went to make sure that I had actually activated it, I saw that the option to turn off the notifications (which never came) was greyed out?!? So I have no clue what in the hell is going on.

UPDATE: Welp, a whole 8 minutes later I did get a notification, but only after I started up the Find My App?!?...

Apple Watch Notification saying taht my wallet was just seen... albeit 8 minutes ago.

I just... don't get it. And of course Apple is playing coy by not including a manual to actually explain this shit. Typical. Also note that even though you're searching for an ITEM, the alert on my Apple Watch says that I'm searching for a PERSON. How Apple consistently misses the little details like this now-a-days just blows my damn mind. Does Apple even bother to fucking beta test their shit any more?!? "WALLETS ARE PEOPLE, MY FRIEND!"

• ITEM SEPARATION — If you subscribe to Tile Tracker's "premium" program, they activate additional features like "Smart Alerts" which will notify you if you accidentally leave something behind. For example... you could tell your Tile Tracker to let you know if you (or, to be more accurate, your phone) becomes separated from your keys. So if you leave them at the restaurant, your phone would get an alert once you reached the parking lot. From what I can tell, AirTags offer no such feature, which is absolutely bizarre. Why would you enter a market where you're not actually competing feature-wise with what's in the market?

• PHONE SEPARATION — You want to know another thing that my Tile Tracker can do that AirTags cannot? Locate my actual iPhone. Squeeze a Tile and it will make an alarm go off on your iPhone. There is no equivalent with an AirTag which seems just brain-dead. Yes, I can find my phone by grabbing my MacBook and logging onto my iCloud account, but do you know how convenient it is to just squeeze the Tile on my keychain to find it? Another feature that Apple has inexplicably left out.

• FIND MY NETWORK PARTICIPATION — I wanted to make sure that my iPhone was a part of Apple's Find My Network so that if my iPhone stumbles across something that somebody has lost, I'll be assisting them in finding it. So when I saw a link which says "HELP A FRIEND: Open iCloud.com so others can sign in and find their devices from this iPhone" in the Find My app, I assumed that would be the place...

Apple Watch Notification saying that my wallet was just seen... albeit 8 minutes ago.

Except when I click the link and sign into iCloud... THERE'S NOTHING FUCKING THERE WHICH ALLOWS ME TO TURN THIS ON! So I'm like "What the hell, Apple?" I have no clue whatsoever whether my iPhone is a part of helping people out in the Find My Network or not. And that's just next-level stupid. I sure hope that this is something that happens automatically, because if Apple is relying on people to turn the feature on... but then doesn't actually give you a way to turn it on... I don't know why the fuck they are even bothering.

UPDATE: I'm guessing the above cryptic message must not be meaning "friend" as "fellow iPhone owners" but instead mean "your literal friends," because I did find a random setting in the "Find My iPhone" section of my iPhone's Settings which says "Find My Network"...

Apple iPhone preferences or whatever.

But is that what opts me INTO the Find My Network to help other people? It doesn't say. It's talking all about finding MY shit. And if this is the place where you opt into the network... then why the fuck does Apple send you to iCloud? Jesus Christ what a mess. I found this heinously confusing bullshit WITHIN A HALF HOUR OF RECEIVING MY AIRTAGS... while Apple has been working on this crap for YEARS and didn't notice this might be confusing?!? This is happening with increasing frequency, and I cannot fathom why Tim Cook isn't kicking some asses over it. Steve Jobs sure as fuck would have! God how I miss Steve Jobs!

• CONCLUSION — In my humble opinion? Stick with Tile for now. Sure, the Tile Tracker Network is far, far smaller than Apple's Find My Network (or is it?) and Tiles aren't directionally locatable like AirTags, but since Apple seems to HAVE THEIR HEAD UP THEIR ASSES with the confusing implementation of their tracking offering... and the feature set doesn't compare to what Tile has with their premium service... why run out and replace all your Tiles with AirTags? I mean, come on. This is hilariously absurd and inept. Apple has reportedly had AirTags ready to go since late 2019, but didn't want to release them during a pandemic. Which means they've had OVER A YEAR WHERE THEY DID ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DOCUMENT USEAGE, SQUASH BUGS, CLARIFY CONFUSING BULLSHIT, AND ADD HANDY FEATURES?!? What kind of stupid shit is that? I'm sure all of this will be worked out in time... but how much more time does Apple fucking need?

Oh well. I own AirTags now, so I guess I'll scour the internet to see if I can find answers while watching television tonight. It's not like I'll be holding my breath waiting for Apple to clarify things and release much-needed information.

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Categories: Apple Stuff 2021Click To It: Permalink
   

Comments

  1. I’m still pondering what I’d use these for. I don’t really lose things of the size/shape that would lend themselves to a tracking thingermebob I mean, I do play the “where did I leave my reading glasses?” game quite often. So maybe I could figure out how to attach something to them?

    • Dave2 says:

      I lose four things regularly… 1) My keys. I have a place for them. I try to remember to put them there. But if my mind is on something else or I’m carrying something, they could end up anywhere… 2) My iPhone. Currently if I squeeze the Tile tracker on my keychain, it will cause my iPhone to sound an alarm and AirTags can’t go that… 3) My stupid fucking Apple Remote. Apparently somebody is selling cases which has a spot for a tracker, but I’ve given up on AppleTV because it’s just so damn BAD and use the apps on my television. That remote is bigger so I lose it less, but I’m still slapping an AirTag on it in case I get up for popcorn and leave it somewhere… 4) My wallet. This is such a no-brainer AirTag application that Apple adds it to the list of AirTag names, and yet they don’t have a thin AirTag?!? Lord. I swear, Apple is the stupidest smart company I know of. They create markets just to lose them because nobody knows what in the hell they’re doing.

  2. Andy says:

    I’ve got a few tiles for my wallet and keys as I’m always misplacing them in the house. The sound like a great idea but only work about 50% of the time for me. The last time was about a week ago, it tells me the signal is really close, but I’m not hearing anything. After turning all the cushions over, I eventually find it. About 3 minutes later the sound starts up!

    I also found someone’s car keys in the wild once (so they don’t work that great when looking for keys either!). I left my app open and running for about 10 minutes to hopefully alert the owner where they were – there was no obvious indication that I’d found a set of keys so hopefully the battery wasn’t flat. It would be nice to get a feel good signal of “Hey you helped someone find their lost item”

    • Dave2 says:

      Tile isn’t perfect… but I still find it odd that this ancient (technologically speaking!) product has more features than Apple’s brand new one! You’ve hit on the head the thing that Apple has done right though: people on any platform can hold the AirTag next to their phone and be taken to a web page where they can report found items. THAT’S the smart way to do it. The most frustrating thing about Tile to me is the feature I love it for… a press on the Tile will ring your iPhone. Which is great. Except when you’re sitting at a lecture and have your keys in your pocket, bend over to retrieve a pen you bought, only to have the Tile activate your phone. Yikes.

  3. Ren says:

    I got a 4-pack as well, though I don’t really have a use for them. I’ve put a couple on two different keys, but I really don’t lose them. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I’m going to try putting the other two on my daughters’ cats, though I’m not sure that’s really going to work out. First, they aren’t currently wearing collars. Second, they are indoor-only cats. Third, if they did manage to get out, it doesn’t seem very likely that the Find My network would be very helpful. Fourth, I’m not sure the anti-tracking features aren’t going to be a problem for this scenario. Oh, and fifth, Apple recommends against this.

    Are you still wearing your Watch? If so, is its “ping my iPhone” feature not sufficient?

    • Dave2 says:

      My cats are indoor-only cats without collars, and I am fairly certain that they couldn’t be trained to wear them… let alone have an AirTag dangling from them. — Still have my Apple Watch and have used it to find my iPhone, sure. But when it’s upstairs on the charger and I’m walking out the door to make a quick trip to Home Depot and realize I don’t remember where I set down my iPhone? Would be nice to just press my AirTag like I can press my Tile and find it that way.

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