Apple AirTag: Hands On – But doesn’t work quite how I’d like…grrrrr

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Apple AirTag: Hands-On


I’ve played with my 4 new Apple Air Tags quite a lot more than I originally planned. They’re QUITE GOOD actually, although not the panacea for all your tracking and recovery wishes.

What’s Great

Providing you have the latest iOS version these will pair easily to your ACCOUNT. As expected from Apple it’s one of those ‘just works’ devices. It does what it does very slickly. It might not do what you want BUT it does do all it claims to well.

There are more features for finding and recovering stuff than you might have imagined. For example, there’s even a neat way to simply click a button to get longer-distance directions to the location of your AirTag. I guess that’s not rocket science, maybe I’m easily pleased?

In the space of a mere day, I have surprisingly completed 7 hours of workout tracking (run+bike) with these…that’s got to be a record for sporting AirTag usage? One of the downsides was that I forgot to take them out of my running short’s back pocket. However, I can confirm they WILL take at least one warm wash cycle of 30 degrees celsius for an hour in a Miele washing machine. 😉

Whilst hands-on tests in the first 24 hours of owning an AirTAG are somewhat contrived I can confirm that I did REALLY lose it this morning at 7:30 before heading out on my ride. I can also confirm that my partner was DELIGHTED to be woken up so that I could use their iPhone to find it. It was in the bedroom but for some reason, the proximity thing just didn’t work (tired-user error?) and the map said it was ‘somewhere on the premises’. I checked the car before returning to the bedroom where we used the ‘play a sound’ finding mode. In a pile of newly washed, dried but unfolded clothes I can confirm that the sounds COULD be a bit louder…but I found it. However, I found it only by totally re-arranging the pile of clothes aka throwing each item somewhere else in search of my running shorts which I had, by then, guessed contained the errant AirTAG!

What’s Not-So-Great but perhaps obvious if you’d thought about it

AirTAGs pair to your Apple account and they are not a DEVICE – using Apple’s terminology

That means they can only be linked to one account. Only one. It doesn’t mean linked to your iPhone…it means linked to your account. That’s kinda fine but you can’t (at present) use it in family sharing as you could do with a device. Your partner’s iPhone is a device and you can track/find each other based on the phone location but it’s not quite the same with an AirTag.

Whilst the iOS ‘Find My’ app seems to work well, there is no similar functionality on the Apple Watch app at present. That’s a bit disappointing. I’m suspecting it will come as the Apple Watch 6 does have UWB. (Find MY on the AW only finds people/devices)

Whilst lost, the AirTAG’s route isn’t shown. Just its last know location and its last known location is enhanced or limited by a variety of factors.

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AirTags to Track Your Workout

For tracking people, you have to use your partner’s AirTAG, either that or let them share your account if you want to use your own AirTAG.

Scenario 1

  • My partner tracked me on a suburban 1-hour drive in fairly busy traffic (London Borough of Richmond in post-lockdown rush-hour). I disabled my mobile data access.
  • It appears that in ‘normal’ mode the AirTAG is pinging its position once every 10 minutes…something like that. So if there’s no one close by at the moment of the ping there will be no position logged on the cloud.
  • Thus in that one hour, my partner only got 2 positional updates, both being in slow-moving traffic.
  • In the normal mode, Find My is virtually useless for tracking relatively fast-moving people/objects, even in a moderately densely packed space. You could easily have a last-known fix many kilometres from where the person or item can currently be found. This is NOT a problem for finding lost stuff as someone will pass the item soon enough, it’s just that it seems to be virtually useless for active tracking in normal mode.

Scenario 2

  • A 2-hour run with the AirTAG in LOST mode. I ran through Richmond town centre and in Richmond Park and past schools at throwing out time, so there were people around.
  • My theory here was that LOST mode bumped up the ping rate and increased the chance of it being more frequently found.
  • This did seem to work better although bear in mind that the battery hit is likely to be much greater. (Normal CR2032 battery life is one year)
  • Updated every 3 minutes and maybe more frequently. At times, it seemed to pick up a location from either residential WiFi or maybe it was from passing cars if the former is not technically possible. I only mention it as I know the Apple watch does use WiFi for location services.
  • Maybe many of the (few) people I bumped into didn’t have an iPhone or perhaps had an old iOS version…IDK. Perhaps I ran past them too quickly for the AirTAG to ping them…IDK.

Scenario 3: You want to use an AirTAG to enable your partner to track your 100 km cycle ride.

I was cycling with 4 other people and at least 2 of them had iPhones and almost certainly with an active mobile data package. Now, this scenario DOES work.

  • AirTAG is not really a tracking device…it’s a finding device. However, when another iPhone is present it becomes a de-facto tracking device with LOST mode enabled.
  • The position was regularly updated and my partner was able to get a very good idea of my frequently updated position. Maybe it was updated by the minute?
  • Interestingly NONE of those cycling with me noticed ANY kind of notification that they were travelling with an AirTag that had been marked as lost…it appears that Apple’s anti-stalker mode may not be quite there yet.

More testing and clarification to follow…

Summary – Take Out

In urban or suburban areas the maths will mean that there will be a sufficient number of devices to make the recovery of a lost item a normally painless process. In more remote areas you could still have success if you dropped your item and were carrying your iPhone at the time it was lost as that time would be recorded.

With lost mode enabled and a nearby iPhone with internet access, the AirTag can act as a useful tracking device.

Buy Apple AirTAG Here

Typically you will also need to buy something to hold the AirTAG

AirTAGs are about $/£/Eu25 each if you buy a 4-pack and slightly more expensive if bought individually. You can get them on Amazon. The holders range from $/£/Eu10 to $/£/Eu500…yes really there is a Hermes version!


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