I’ve been playing around with Apple’s new AirTag location devices for a few hours now, and they seem to work pretty much as advertised. The setup flow is clean and straightforward, taking clear inspiration from the one Apple developed for AirPods. The precision finding feature enabled by the U1 chip works as a solid example of utility-driven augmented reality, popping up a virtual arrow and other visual identifiers on the screen to make finding a tag quicker.
The primary way that AirTags work, if you’re not familiar, is that they use Bluetooth beaconing technology to announce their presence to any nearby devices running iOS 14.5 and above. These soft pings are encrypted and invisible (usually) to any passer-by, especially if they are with their owners. This means that no one ever knows what device actually ‘located’ your AirTag, not even Apple.
With you, by the way, means in relative proximity to a device signed in to the iCloud account that the AirTags are registered to. Bluetooth range is typically in the ~40-foot range depending on local conditions and signal bounce.
In my minimal testing so far, the AirTag location range fits in with that basic Bluetooth expectation. This means that it can be foiled by many obstructions or walls or an unflattering signal bounce. For instance, it often took 30 seconds or more to get an initial location from an AirTag in another room. However, once the site was received, the instructions to locate the device seemed to update quickly and were highly accurate down to a few inches.
The AirTags run for a year on a standard CR2032 battery that’s user-replaceable. They offer some water resistance, including submersion, for some time. Many accessories seem nicely designed, like leather straps for bags, luggage tags, and key rings. Also, I got a lot yesterday to answer a question: no, this functionality is inexplicably not built into the new Apple TV remote.
In this shot of the disassembled AirTag, you can see Apple’s extensive hardware obsession on display. The battery contacts inside the casing are not simple bend prongs as is typical for small devices. Instead, the connection is made via the internal casing clasps and a set of three pressure contacts. This should improve longevity as they are less likely to get tweaked or bent during a battery replacement or lose touch over time.