What’s inside Apple AirTag?


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Written By Dinu Sri

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

If you have been using AirTag tracking device, am sure you have been wondering how such a tiny device can do so much. This tracking device can even connect to a strangers iPhone to send you a location update.  

Luckily, I bought an AirTag and dissected it to see what makes it so much powerful. Keep reading this guide to understand what components make up this spectacular tracking device. 

What’s inside Apple AirTag?

When you unbox Apple’s AirTag box, you will get to see a tiny round and sleek device. From the look of it, you cannot tell it’s the same device that is used in combination with iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to keep track of almost all items in your home. 

The sleek device should not make you underestimate this tracking devices. With the help of over a million Apple users, you can track your lost item through the use of Find My Network. To understand better, we will discuss how an AirTag looks externally and internally. 

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The external outlook of an AirTag device.

The external part of an AirTag does not have a lot to see. You will first see a sleek device with an Apple symbol and some writing indicating where the device was made and assembled. On the other side of the device is where you can engrave whatever symbol you want on your device. 

Other than that, is the physical dimensions, and the color that is visible. 

What material is used to make AirTags?

Apple AirTag is made from lightweight polished stainless steel which is dust-resistant and IP67 water-resistant. So, if by any chance your device falls inside a pool or a water basin, it will not stop working.  

What are the dimensions of an AirTag?

All Apple AirTag device come in unform size of 32mm x 32mm x 6mm. However, there is a rumor that Apple will be releasing larger AirTags in the near future. However, it is not clear when this will be. 

AirTag weighs 11 grams. This is too light which makes them even more amazing. 

What are the colors of the AirTag device?

You can choose Apple AirTag from a variety of numbers. If you want to buy several AirTags, you can buy different colors to avoid confusion. 

Does AirTag has a magnet?

No, AirTags do not have a magnet and they are not magnetic. If you want to attach the device to any surface like a wallet or your car keys, you will need to use an adhesive pad that comes with the device. 

The interior of an AirTag?

There is a lot that goes inside an AirTag that is somehow complicated. Like what technology ensures AirTag device connects to your iPhone? Do you charge an AirTag? What ensures your device send the location update to your iCloud account.

 When dissecting the tracking device, you first meet a polished stainless-steel cover that conceals the battery. The cover has three tabs that ensures the cover is well secured to the three slots in the AirTag casing. This ensures that your AirTag’s battery is protected. 

After opening the cover, you will find a round CR2032 battery. The battery lasts up to 12 months.

What material is used to make CR2032 battery

CR2032 coin cell battery also known as button cell is made of lithium. These batteries are disposable. However, there LIR2032 is a rechargeable version of CR2032. 

Properties of CR2032

  • Voltage: This battery comes with a voltage of 3V. 
  • Temperature resistant: CR2032 battery can operate in temperature range of almost -30 degrees Celsius up to 60 degrees Celsius.
  • Percentage of Lithium: CR2032 has about 0.109 grams of lithium. 
  • Weight and Volume: CR2032 comes with a weight of 3.0 grams and a volume of 1.0 cubic centimeter. 
  • Long shelf life: CR2032 battery can last up to 10 years with a discharge rate of 1% per year. 

Does an AirTag has a speaker

After removing the battery, you will find a safe zone which can be opened using a pair of tweezers or any sharp object. You should however make sure you are removing the casing carefully to prevent damaging the inbuild speaker.

The inbuild speaker is attached to the control board. That speaker is the one that is activated by Find My app to find out precisely where your AirTag is in case it gets lost. 

Do AirTags have GPS? 

GPS stands for Global positioning System. It is the system that allows smartphones and computers to tell where exactly a device is in the world. GPS are not found in devices. Rather they are earth bound and connect to the satellites.

GPS is the same system that enables messaging apps and uber to work precisely. All devices that have GPS system are large. 

Since AirTag devices work very by showing exactly where the device is in the world, do they have a GPS?

AirTag does not have a GPS. If they had, AirTag will have been larger. What AirTag uses to send your location to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch is a Bluetooth chip that is built in. 

This means, AirTag sends and receives data through a Bluetooth chip that is built in and attached to the control board that is buried deep under the battery compartment

Another way your AirTag sends and receives signals and data is through Find My Network. This transmission and not sent through any chip inside the AirTag, rather through wireless connections such as Wi-Fi. 

You can also use precision finding that will only work with iPhone 11 and any other latest iPhone. 

iPhone 11 and other latest iPhone have a U1 Chip that uses Ultrawide Band (UWB) radio waves to precisely show the location of your AirTag. 

NFC which stands for “Near Field Communication is another sensor present in an AirTag device that allows your phone to interact with an AirTag to show exactly where your device is. 

What are the components of an AirTag?

An AirTag does not have a lot of components. However, all the components present in the tracking device ensures the tracking process works perfectly. Below is a summary of all the components inside an AirTag device and their role. 

  • CR2032 lithium battery: The battery is the one that powers the AirTag. This battery can last up to 1 year without needing a replacement. 
  • U1 Chip: AirTags have an U1 chip that uses ultra-wideband to pinpoint where exactly your device is. 
  • Bluetooth chip: AirTag device does not use GPS to send the signal of where your device is provided it is in the stated range. Find My network also uses Bluetooth from other people’s Apple devices for location update. 
  •  NFC chip: Every AirTag device has an NFC chip which connects to the phone when scanned. Once scanned, NFC chip will send signal in your phone to indicate when the AirTag device is in close proximity. 

What technology is used to make AirTag?

Since we have argued that AirTag does not use GPS to aid tracking of our valuable, what makes AirTag the pro when it come tracking is the use of Ultra-wideband (UWB). 

UWB is a technology that uses some types of radio waves that are commonly used in IoT applications. 

To enable the use of UWB technology, Apple has attached a U1 chip inside the control board. 

How does UWB Work?

UWB works the same way Bluetooth and Wi-Fi work; through short-range wireless communication. The frequency of UWB in AirTag devices are very high. This is why the tracking device can send and receive accurate data within seconds. 

AirTag will therefore send low-power pulses of energy over a wide spectrum of radio waves. it can send up 1 billion pulses per second. This is why find My app will accurately pinpoint where your AirTag. 

If you are using iPhone 11 and any latest iPhone, you can utilize the Precision Finding feature available in Find My App. Precision Finding gives accurate distance in feet, and the direction of where your AirTag is in case it gets lost. 

What is Nordic nRF52832

Aside from the Bluetooth, U1, and NFS chip, AirTags also have radio ICs, and multiple antennas. 

The trans receiver used in AirTag tracking device is Nordic nRF52832 which is a WLCSP50 package. 

Before the release of AirTag tracking device, other tracking devices were using 2.4 GHz Nordic Trans receiver ICs which has 180nm process node. AirTags on the other hand uses Nordic nRF52832 which has a 90nm process node. 

Since AirTags have a shorter transistor gate length, they have a smaller manufacturing node which accommodate more transistors per die. This in turn lowers the IC’s power consumption. 

The WLCSP50 package, which is 75 percent smaller than the 48-pin 6 mm x 6 mm QFN variant, is used in the AirTag. There could be a variety of reasons for choosing the WLCSP50 over the QFN packaging, one of which could be as simple as using the flexible Nordic chip requires less PCB area.

AirTag’s nRF52832 chip supports NFC, Bluetooth, and Bluetooth Mesh. The Bluetooth mesh is the one that allows the AirTag to link Apple devices in the Apple Find My network. 

What component keeps information private in AirTag?

Apple is one company that values the privacy of their users. According to Carolyn Wolfman, an Apple engineer ensures their users that you can use Find My network without having to share their location with anyone, including Apple. 

Although there have been cases of people getting stalked using AirTag, Apple keeps upgrading their devices to ensure your safety as customer. 

If you AirTag get lost, you can track it through Find My Network. Since, your AirTag will connect to someone’s else device to send you a signal, what part of the AirTag will prevent you from being stalked?

There is no component inside the AirTag that prevents your AirTag from being stalked. What happens is that there is a private key that is shared by your Apple ID and the AirTag is not visible by anyone else except you. Even Apple cannot see your product key. 

So, anyone that does not have access to your Apple ID cannot see your product key. Therefore, all your data including your location history is only available to your phone. 

So, how does the AirTag incorporate all its components to create such a powerful device?

Apple has created a tiny technology that is capable to find even the most valuable belongings. You can attach your car keys and find them easily if you misplace them by any chance. 

When buying the AirTag device, you do not have to worry about all chips, trans receivers, and the speaker connection. All the work is done for you by Apple. Apple also have installed a software inside of AirTag. So, all you need is to setup the AirTag, and the AirTag starts working. 

Apple has designed the AirTag tracking device in a away it will make you enjoy using it when you see it. 

  • AirTag comes in a small box that contain other accessories if you order the accessories. 
  • When you open the box, you will get a manual that has the device placed at the center.
  • AirTag itself comes in a round sleek design which might be in any color offered by Apple. 
  • On one side of the AirTag has an Apple symbol and the other side is empty. This is where you engrave your name or any emoji you want. 
  • All the components inside the AirTag are connected in a way, you will only need to work on Find My App to activate all the functions of the components. 
  • First you will need to start your device. But before, you will need to check if your AirTag’s battery is working. 
  • Remove the battery by first pressing the polished stainless-steel cover. 
  • Press the cover down and start rotating it anticlockwise until it cannot rotate anymore. 
  • Remove the cover and then remove the battery. 
  • Put the battery back and press it down until a sound is produced. Once the sound is replaced you then reverse the process to put the cover back. 
  • Set up Find My App and then connect the AirTag to your Apple device. 
  • The app will notify you that the AirTag is connected by the AirTag advertising itself for a few seconds and then the you can start using the device to keep track of your valuables.

Since AirTags are not magnetic, you will need to purchase some AirTags accessories which can be used to hold the device. If you are using an AirTag to keep track of your dog, you will need to purchase a perfect AirTag dog collar made specifically for AirTags. 

You can also get key chains that are compatible with AirTags. One advantage of using AirTag to track your valuables, it is the fact AirTags are small yet they accommodate so much technology. 

Aside from the advanced technology inside the AirTag, the fact that you can use your phone to track any lost item through the use of Find My App. 

Apple has been always ahead when it comes to creating genius devices. I am sure AirTag is not the last smart they will be releasing. You can keep up with me by subscribing to our page for all the latest news about Apple. 

Conclusion 

It can get confusing as to how such a tiny device could do so much as an AirTag. First, an AirTag works by utilizing the Ultra-wide band technology which is connected is embedded inside the U1 chip. 

Ultra-wide band uses Bluetooth mesh which allows your tracking device to connect to other iPhones, iPad, or iPod touch provided the Bluetooth is on. 

AirTags also has an inbuilt speaker which is helpful when narrowing down the search for your AirTag in case you misplace them. 

If by any chance Find My app cannot locate your misplaced AirTag, you can play the sound found on your app. This activates the inbuilt speaker to make a sound. You can then follow the sound to trace your AirTag device. 

The AirTag uses the radio waves produced by Nordic Trans receiver ICs and UWB technology to also show the direction and the distance you will have to move to reach your device. 

AirTag also come with a lithium CR2032 battery which powers the device for more than 1 year. 

If you want to learn more about AirTag component, you will need to read my Guide above. You can also subscribe to this page down below to always stay ahead. 

References

  1. O’Malley, J. (2021). The imminent ultra-wideband revolution: After decades in the lab, big tech has finally found a use for a unique wireless technology. Engineering & Technology16(9), 1-4.
  2. Multerer, T., Geyer, F., Duhovnikov, S., Baltaci, A., Tepper, J., & Schupke, D. (2021, October). A Localizable Wireless Communication Node with Remote Powering for Onboard Operations. In 2021 IEEE/AIAA 40th Digital Avionics Systems Conference (DASC) (pp. 1-7). IEEE.
  3. Zhao, Q., Zuo, C., Blasco, J., & Lin, Z. (2022, May). PeriScope: Comprehensive Vulnerability Analysis of Mobile App-defined Bluetooth Peripherals. In Proceedings of the 2022 ACM on Asia Conference on Computer and Communications Security (pp. 521-533).