How does AirTag work?


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Written By Dinu Sri

Dr. H. T. D. S. Madusanka is an electronic enthusiastic, involved in research and development.

There have been quite a number of amazing tracking devices in the market. However, Apple’s AirTag release on April 2021 changed the game completely. AirTags are very tiny tracking devices with the ability to track even the most expensive valuables. 

Since AirTag devices are small, how do they manage track your valuables? Do they have a GPS? Can you use an AirTag to track multiple valuables? How do you connect AirTag to your device? 

AirTag devices are very simple devices, you only need to connect them to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, then attach them to the item you want to track and get started. 

The information given above is helpful. Yet, it does not give you a clear visual of how AirTags work. I will therefore give you a more detailed guide on how AirTags work in this post. By the end of the post, you will have learnt why AirTag is top tier when it comes to tracking your items. So, please stick around.

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How does AirTag work?

Apple has been known for their amazing innovations over the years. They identified the need to keep track of items that are not technological and released AirTags. AirTags are tiny devices that uses Ultra-wide band technology (UWB) to send signals to your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Your phone then traces your AirTag. How is this possible?

AirTag comes with a number of components integrated together in a control board. 

  • U1 chip which is what contains UWB responsible for sending signals in form of waves to your Apple device. 
  • Bluetooth chip responsible for connecting AirTag to your Apple device. 
  • An inbuilt speaker which produces a sound which will enable you trace where exactly your AirTag is. 
  • A CR2032 battery that powers your AirTag. 

An AirTag will not work on its own. You will need to have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with IOS 14.50 and latest versions.

How do you connect your AirTag with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch?

AirTags do not have a screen of their own that can allow you to set it. You will therefore need to use another Apple device to help with the setting. AirTags are compatible with iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with IOS 14.50 and latest versions.

Setting up AirTag is not that complicated. However, if you miss any step, your AirTag will not work. Follow the step-by-step guide provided below to set up your AirTag. 

Step 1: Check if your AirTag is working. 

Remove and return the battery from is compartment. If your battery produces a sound when returning it, then it is connected and the AirTag is in the right condition. 

Step 2: Ensure your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch ready for connection.

Your Apple device will not notice your AirTag just like that.

  • Ensure Bluetooth is on
  • Turn on Wi-Fi or cellular data 
  • Enable two-factor authentication
  • Enable Find My App. 

Step 3: Connect your AirTag to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch

Once all the steps 1 and 2 are fulfilled, you can then connect your AirTag. Bring your AirTag closer to your iPhone and let them connect. Before the AirTag starts working, your AirTag will advertise itself for a few seconds and then it gets connected. 

Step 4: Set up your AirTag

Once the AirTag is connected, you will need to set it up before you start using it. 

  • Go to find my app
  • You will be given an option to name your device
  • You can choose whichever name you want. If you are setting up an AirTag for your car keys, you can name your AirTag car keys. If they are for your bicycle, name the AirTag bicycle. 
  • You will then press continue to register your AirTag with your Apple ID. One Apple ID can register up to 16 AirTags. 
  • After registering the device, then tap done and your AirTag is ready to work. 

Step 5: Attaching your AirTag to your item.

In previous articles, we indicated that AirTags are not magnetic. You will therefore need to use an adhesive pad if you want to track your AirTag to stuff like your bicycle and wallets. Alternatively, you can buy key chains specifically made for AirTags. 

Step 5: Test if its working

You will need to test if your AirTag device is working. Try an experiment by taking let’s say your car keys to another room. 

  • Open Find My app
  • Go to the items bar and choose the AirTag that you want to track. 
  • Tap on the item and then tap track. 
  • Find My App will show you exactly where your device is in terms of distance and direction. 
  • Follow the onscreen instructions provided to find your AirTag. 
  • If you can reach your AirTag, press the speaker icon on the screen. This activates the inbuilt speaker inside the AirTag to produce a sound. Follow the sound which will take you directly to your AirTag. 
  • If you are using iPhone 11 and the latest versions, you can take advantage of precision finding feature available in Find my app. Precision Finding will give you the exact feet you will have to move to get to your AirTag. 

You will can use AirTag device to track items such as:

  • Wallets
  • Car keys
  • House keys
  • Your bicycle,
  • You kids backpacks
  • Your pets etc. 

Does AirTag have a GPS?

No, AirTag do not have a GPS. If they had a GPS, they would be larger than they are. What AirTag uses to track lost device is Bluetooth connection. 

The Bluetooth chip present inside your AirTag device will connect with your phone’s Bluetooth to receive the data which comes in form of radio waves produces by the U1chip inside the AirTag. 

Tracking your AirTag is therefore possible if your phone Bluetooth is on and in range. If you happen to lose your AirTag, you can still recover it thanks to a million Apple device users around the world. 

Your AirTag will connect to any apple device which has an activated Find my network and enabled Bluetooth. The location of your AirTag will be updated to your iCloud account. You can then use the data to find where it was last seen. 

How does AirTag work without Internet?

AirTags do not have a screen of their own. They therefore do not use internet at all. Internet is only needed when setting up the AirTag before you start using it. Instead, AirTags uses Bluetooth to send data to other devices near it incase it gets lost. 

Does AirTag work without Bluetooth?

No, for an AirTag tracking device to work, you will need to enable your Bluetooth connection. 

Inside the AirTag is an U1 chip. This cheap uses UWB technology to send signals to any device that is connected to it. UWB send about 1 billion pulses in a second which enables accurate and precise data. 

Most of the time UWB is applicable in devices that are connected to the internet. However, in our case, AirTags do not have a screen of their own. they cannot be connected to the internet. 

To enable the data collected to by the AirTag to be send to your Apple device, you will need some type of connection. This is where Bluetooth comes in. 

AirTags have a Bluetooth chip that enables your AirTag to connect to your phone to send the signal needed when tracking your lost item. 

If for example you lose your AirTag device in the public, the Bluetooth chip will send the signal to another phone closer to your AirTag provided the other phone Bluetooth connection is on.

Does AirTag need to be charged?

AirTag uses the long lasting CR2032 lithium coin cell battery. CR2032 battery can last up to 1 year without the need for a replacement. This is because this battery has a 1% discharge rate which is very low. AirTags are also not power-hungry devices. 

Replacing your AirTag battery is not that complicated. You will need to follow this steps for a successful replacement.

CR2032 batteries are also cheap. You will only spend about $8-$10 for a pack of six batteries. 

Therefore, there is no need to charge your AirTags. Besides, they do not have a charging port. 

How to find your AirTag

We have already explained how to set up your AirTag device. We have also learnt how the device sends signals to your Apple device. But how do you get your lost device?

For starters, you can connect up to 16 AirTags to one Apple ID. Having multiple AirTags can create a confusion if any of them get lost. For this reason, Apple allows you to customize your AirTag by Engraving it with your name, initials, or your favorite emoji. 

When registering the AirTag to your Apple ID, you will get a chance to name your AirTag. This way, it will be possible to know which AirTag us lost. 

The steps below will help you track your lost AirTag. 

  • Open Find My app
  • Tap on the item tab
  • Choose the item with the lost AirTag. 
  • You will be provided with instructions to follow to reach your device. If you are using iPhone 11 and any latest versions, you can get precise distance and an arrow pointing to the direction of your AirTag.
  • Follow the instructions and get to your device. 
  • Once you have found the AirTag, you can tap the X button to show you are done. 

If you cannot reach your AirTag, tap on the speaker icon on the screen to activate the inbuilt speaker. The speaker will produce a sound which you can follow to reach to your AirTag. A flashlight icon will appear on your screen if it gets dark.

You can also do all that and still not reach your AirTag if Location Access is still not turned on. 

  • Go to the settings on your iPhone. 
  • Scroll down until you get to privacy
  • Select location services to check if it is on. 
  • Scroll down and tap Find My. 
  • You can then check Ask Next time and turn on precise location.

If you lost your AirTag on the public, it is still possible to retrieve it. Your AirTag will connect to any other iPhone that has Find My Network. You can then go to the map and see exactly where your AirTag is. 

  • Open Find My. 
  • Tap on the item that is lost. 
  • Choose the direction and the route on the map which you will use to reach your AirTag. 
  • Tap go and get the directions from where you are currently to where your AirTag was last seen. 

If by any chance the AirTag gets into someone else pocket, the inbuilt speaker will be activated and their iPhone activated to produce a sound. There is no way they will miss the sound. The AirTag then updates its location history on iCloud which will enable you to reach it provided it is still connected to your Apple ID. 

How does AirTag work? - social media flyer

AirTags range distance

Although Apple has not yet given the range in which your iPhone can receive the signals from the AirTag device, your iPhone can detect an AirTag at a range of 100 meters. This deduction come from a number of experiments and comments from other people who have been using AirTags. 

If the AirTag is not in that range, you can use other ways like checking on the map to see where it was last seen.

AirTag location history

You will be able to reach your AirTag thanks to the location history updated every time your device is closer to an iPhone with enabled Bluetooth connection. 

There have been speculations that someone can access your location history and use it to stalk you. This however is very impossible. 

The location history of your AirTag device cannot be accessed from the AirTag. Location history is updated to your iCloud account which is connected to your Apple ID. You are the only person who can therefore access your AirTag location history. Even Apple the service provider cannot access your AirTag location history. 

How often does AirTag update location

The location history of your AirTag will be updated every time your AirTag is close proximity to an iPhone with IOS version 14.50 and latest versions. The iPhone should have an active Bluetooth connection and registered to Find My Network. 

You are not the one responsible of updating your location history. Update happens periodically and can take up to 28 minutes to fully update. 

There are some limits to relying on Find My Network to locate your lost AirTag. 

  • Not everyone has activated Find My Network on their iPhone. Someone might have an iPhone and the Bluetooth is off. 
  • If your AirTag gets lost in a scarcely populated area, it might get hard to find it. 
  • You may be using an AirTag to keep track of your pet. Pets cannot stay one place waiting to be found. Most pets especially cats will avoid crowded place especially when lost. You might still find the last location they were seen. However, the location will be in accurate since your pet will have moved. 
  • If your AirTag falls in the hands of a person with bad motives, they can steal the device, and hard reset it.

Other than that, Apple has assured that no one can access your personal information from your AirTag. You are the only one who can see the location history of your AirTag. 

Apple has also released new updates to AirTag software. This new software update is anti-stalker. This ensures that there is no way anyone can use your AirTag to stalk you. 

Since Apple is always rectify and dealing with issues associated with their devices, there will definitely be more updates and upgrades from Apple. 

Keep up with these new upgrades by subscribing to this page. I will be giving you all the news immediately Apple release them. 

Conclusion 

An AirTag might be a tiny and very affordable device. But it is capable of accomplishing more than any other tracking device. 

You can use AirTag to keep track of most of your items that don’t have GPS trackers. Example of this items is the car keys. 

An AirTag works by combining the UWB technology present in the U1 chip found inside the device, Bluetooth connection and APPLE devices with IOS 14.50 and any latest versions. 

If it is your first time using an AirTag to keep track of your valuable, this guide will be of so much help. 

I will continue giving you more information about AirTags and their other functions. You can therefore always stay ahead with this kind of information by subscribing to this page. 

References

  1. Mesquita, G. P., Mulero-Pázmány, M., Wich, S. A., & Rodríguez-Teijeiro, J. D. (2022). A practical approach with drones, smartphones, and tracking tags for potential real-time animal tracking. Current Zoology.
  2. Heinrich, A., Bittner, N., & Hollick, M. (2022, May). AirGuard-Protecting Android Users from Stalking Attacks by Apple Find My Devices. In Proceedings of the 15th ACM Conference on Security and Privacy in Wireless and Mobile Networks (pp. 26-38).
  3. Leu, P., Camurati, G., Heinrich, A., Roeschlin, M., Anliker, C., Hollick, M., … & Classen, J. (2021). Ghost Peak: Practical Distance Reduction Attacks Against HRP UWB Ranging. arXiv preprint arXiv:2111.05313.