In brief: It seems that Apple’s AirTags are more versatile than the company first let on. Not only can you track your stuff with them, they cannot be used by others who might find or steal them, can notify a finder of who the tag belongs to, and get this, they can also notify you if you are being “stalked.”
Apple finally revealed that it is launching its AirTag tracking fobs on April 30. The device utilizes the company’s expanded and improved Find My network to locate attached items with nearly pinpoint precision. However, the trackers have more versatility than Apple initially announced.
In an interview with Fast Company, Apple’s Vice President of Worldwide iPhone Product Marketing Kaiann Drance and Senior Director of Sensing and Connectivity Ron Huang explained features of AirTags that make them more secure and prevent unwanted spying. They also revealed that the fobs are compatible with non-Apple devices, like Android phones.
“When it came to designing our own product, we thought carefully about how to get this right in a way that no one else in the industry’s ever done before,” said Drance. “You’ll see that we designed for the privacy of AirTag owners and nonowners, as well as making these benefits opened up to third-party products as well.”
One key feature of AirTag is called “Pairing Lock.” What this does is make it so that nobody else can use your tracker. If someone finds or steals it, it will be useless to them. The feature is more or less a spinoff of iPhone’s Activation Lock.
“If you lose your AirTag, somebody can’t just pick up your AirTag, repair it with their iPhone, and continue using it,” said Huang. “This has been really impactful for the iPhone and we think it will be for AirTag as well.”
When used with other Apple devices, a convenient feature of the Find My app is “Lost Mode,” which allows the finder to contact the owner. For instance, when users mark their iPhone as lost, the lock screen displays a message that says, “Lost iPhone—This iPhone has been lost. Please call me.” The user can customize the message with contact information.
AirTags cannot be identified in this manner since they have no screen. However, if the owner sets the AirTag to “lost” in the Find My app, the device can still inform the finder how to contact the owner.
“Every AirTag has a unique serial number printed on it, but the identity of the owner cannot be derived from that number unless that owner activates the AirTag’s Lost Mode. Once you’ve toggled that option on, someone who finds your lost AirTag can then scan it with any NFC-equipped device (such as an iPhone or Android phone) to display a web URL prompt on that device. Tapping on the prompt will take the finder of your AirTag to an Apple support page featuring the AirTag’s unique serial number and—if the AirTag owner so chooses—the phone number of the AirTag’s owner so the finder can call or text.”
Another intriguing feature that Apple did not touch on in its keynote is its “stalker-proofing.” It is conceivable that someone could use an AirTag to track an unsuspecting person’s location by slipping on into the pocket of a backpack or other item. However, since any iPhone can detect any nearby AirTag, it will push a notification to the user that says, “AirTag Found Moving With You” if it notices the device stays within proximity.
For Android users or those without an iPhone to let them know they are being followed, AirTags are programmed to “automatically emit a sound notifying those around it of its presence.” Currently, this occurs after the fob has been out of range of the owner for three days, but the executives said that Apple could tweak the timing in future updates if necessary.
Image credit: Jack Skeens