The Apple AirTag is Clearly an MVP, But It’s Not the Type You Might Expect

Ever since the news spread that Apple purchased the “AirTag” from a Russian RFID (radio-frequency identification) company back in 2019, people have been bursting with excitement. It left us to imagine all the incredible ways Apple might utilize decades-old RFID technology in a compact, NFC (near-field communication) tag with something no other NFC tag could behold: the genius of Apple’s “Find My” software.  

With the excitement surrounding Apple’s announcement that it is finally ready to release the AirTag, you may have glossed over the bit about its collaboration with the Parisian luxury goods brand, Hermes. After all, it’s just an AirTag accessory, and if you’re not in the market for a five-figure handbag to match, who cares, right? 

Well, the AirTag Hermes “Bag Tag”, a $299 keychain (AirTag not included), may raise more than eyebrows. While it provides a glamorous illustration of the AirTag, sending the subconscious message that the AirTag must be a superior product to warrant such an expensive accessory, it also raises the question about the AirTag’s design that’s so obvious, it’s easy to miss amidst surmounting privacy and security concerns. 

Is the AirTag another industry MVPas we’ve come to know (and expect) from Apple’s consistent stream of most valuable players in consumer tech? Or does the AirTag Hermes actually reveal that this MVP is really a half-baked minimum viable product?  

The Failure of ‘Find My’ For Valuables 

The glaring fundamental issue lies within its value. The problem here is that Apple wants its products to be seen, and so it doesn’t seek to hide. However, for the AirTag to provide real value and to be effective against anything other than carelessness or disorganization, it needs to be hidden. But as long as Apple seeks the spotlight, Hermes will lose at the expense of Apple’s (short-term) win. 

The AirTag Hermes Bag Tag is attached to the exterior of the bag, placing it in plain sight. This puts a target on the Hermes bags. It provides an easy way to identify a valuable bag, it just screams “I’m expensive.” And because the AirTag is an accessory that is easily added–and easily removed–it provides zero protection against theft, nor will it help you track it down in case it’s stolen as the first thing a thief would do is remove the AirTag and chuck it in the trash. 

In fact, the AirTag Hermes Bag Charm doesn’t deter, but may actually attract criminals. 

Mitigating the Value of Apple’s ‘Find My’ Software 

For this technology to work and serve the needs of the Hermes consumer, the RFID tracking technology would need to be built into the product. Or at least, out of sight and hidden within the bag–not an attractive external keychain designed to be noticed. 

However, its built-in features designed to help protect people and to combat privacy and security threats, such as the “anti-stalker” feature may prove counterproductive for theft. This is because the thief would be notified of an unidentified AirTag within their vicinity if they had been carrying it on them. In other words, the AirTag will actually notify a thief of a hidden AirTag–well, if they have a device running on iOS 14.5 or later.

Handbags aside, it’s clear that Apple invested more time into its “Find My” software than the AirTag itself, and rightfully so. The software is the core of the product, and where its true value lies. However, it’s evident that as Apple attempted to mitigate each problem, it created a new problem. And by working out the kinks in a way that created new kinks, its value is lost. 

From Minimum Viable to Most Valuable    

In the words of Steve Jobs, “design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works,” and well, the AirTag doesn’t quite work. The AirTag is an accessory-dependent accessory because it wasn’t designed well enough to be enough on its own and when the value it offers is the same thing that poses a threat to its users, mitigating its threats means eliminating its value. 

Apple’s ‘Find My’ software holds the power to provide peace of mind for the aspects of life that are out of our control, and that’s its true value. At best, it’s the modern-day lost and found that will undoubtedly help give users a way to find their lost (or even stolen) AirTag. But don’t expect that it will help you also locate the item the AirTag was attached to. 

While Apple’s initial AirTag minimum viable product might not be the winner we hoped for, odds are, as Apple works out these kinks, future generations of the AirTags will be more than what we imagined. Leaving us to continue to wonder, what will come next? 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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