how does the AirTag work

How the Apple AirTag Works and Why Buy One

Technology is meant to make our lives easier. Apple focuses on providing that convenience by never stopping progressing and coming up with new products. One of those products is the AirTag. This small, round-shaped tracker is designed to locate stolen, misplaced luggage or other items. The AirTag comes at an affordable price of $29 for one ($99 for four) and can be engraved with your initials or an image of your choice.   

Although AirTag sounds like an ideal travelling companion, it also raises one issue — privacy. Furthermore, we will discuss in depth all sides of the AirTag: the way it works, its benefits, and ways to protect yourself from being tracked.    

“The groundwork for the AirTag was laid in 2014 with the iBeacona small, inexpensive Bluetooth transmitter that provided location-based information and services to iPhones. While Bluetooth can track items to within about 5 meters, ultrawideband, or UWB, technology can pinpoint them to within 5 to 10 centimetres,” says CNET. Laster in 2019 Apple started developing a device to compete with Tile Bluetooth trackers. Two years later, AirTag was presented by the brand and became a choice number one for many travelers.

How Does the AirTag Work?

Ultra-wideband technology of AirTag connects with Apple’s existing network and works as a signal to connect each other and determine a missing item’s location. From the exterior AirTag looks like a small, stainless-steel disk with an Apple logo. It is also a water- and dust-resistant device, that is especially useful if you are constantly on the road. (To provide extra protection to your device you could also use the removable cover.)   

To set up AirTag pull out the tab to activate the device, then bring it near your phone and wait for it to detect the tracker. The process is similar to setting up AirPods. Name your AirTag after the item it will be tracking while you travel.   

Besides, you can download the Find My app, to easily track your luggage or identify the location of a missing item. But keep in mind that your iPhone has to run iOS 14.5 or above system update in order to be compatible with the Find My app. However, if you want to use the Precision Finding function you would need an iPhone 11 or 12. As per Apple, “these models use ARKit, the camera, accelerometer, and gyroscope for a more directionally aware finding experience.”   

How Does iPhone Find My Lost AirTags?

That might not be a common issue, yet it is better to be aware of the possibility of a loss of stolen items, hence you need to know the process of finding the trackers. It might sound surprising but AirTags do not include a GPS chip. But, your iPhone does. Apple uses a proprietary U1 chip with ultra-wideband technology connecting a network that searches among 1.65 billion Apple devices to narrow down the location of your AirTag.  

Use the Find My app to locate the tracker on a map. The app allows you to play a sound from the AirTag which you will hear if the device is somewhere nearby. The Precision Finding on the other hand will tell you how far you are from a lost object and provide you with directions toward it.   

If nothing helps to locate the tracker, the Find My app offers a Lost Mode option that creates a custom message. That message is displayed when someone else finds your AirTag. As soon as the tracker appears nearby somebody else’s phone, your message (contact phone number, for example) will appear on their device. The same applies to Android users. Thus, you do not have to worry that it must be only the iPhone owner who finds your AirTag.   

(Note that Android users cannot register an AirTag with their device. However, the NFC feature on Android phones allows them to connect to lost AirTags.)  

Does AirTag Require Charging?  

AirTag comes with a battery and does not require charging. According to Apple, the battery lasts at least one year before replacing. However, you do not need to purchase a special battery a year later. A standard CR203 battery will work just as well. To remove the battery simply push down and twist the back plate of the AirTag.   

What About Privacy? 

Apple confirms that no location or location history is stored inside AirTags. Technically only the owner of the device has access to its location data. At the same time, the main concern is based on cases where AirTags were used to track people. Those devices are small, and can easily be placed into pockets or purses, and a stalker could use them to keep a track of a certain person.  

With such cases and raised awareness, Apple implemented a few extra security measures. Some of those features are shortened time (when a nonowner is notified of an AirTag nearby), warning sounds, and an alert that the AirTag is linked to your Apple ID and can enable law enforcement to withdraw identity information on the tracker’s owner.   

Besides that, there are a few actions you could take to protect yourself from being tracked. While tracking is a common way of abuse, and no matter how aware you are of your surroundings, a small tracker can be easily slipped into your belongings.   

First of all, watch for a notification on your iPhone that says that the AirTag is found moving with you. You can also keep your ears open to keep your attention on any noise AirTag will make when it is separated from its owner. Typically, the noise appears between eight to twenty-four hours. Perhaps in the near future, Apple will come up with a way to improve and reduce the number of hours of notification.   

Second, at the end of the day as you get home make sure to manually search yourself, your pockets, bags (especially those bags that do not have zippers) and your car for gaps and places where a tracker could be slipped in.   

Third, think it through, as CNET says, “If you suspect someone is using an AirTag or similar device to track you, you should consider what information they seem to know, and try to narrow down the items you have with you during those times.” Calmly reflecting on that information could help you identify whether a tracker is in your personal belongings, a home or a car.    

Fourth, if you find the AirTag, disable it immediately. Simply stop sharing your location by twisting counter-clockwise on the back by the Apple logo, then take the battery out. Whoever is tracking you will no longer be able to track your whereabouts.    

Five, purchase a Bluetooth tracker. AirTag uses Bluetooth signals while connecting to Apple’s network. At the same time, you could use Bluetooth tracking apps to scan the area around you to see if any AirTag is within the reach. (Bluetooth BLE Device Finder, BLE Scanner, etc.)  

What Else Can You Track With the AirTag?  

Although AirTag can track pretty much any object or person, some things are not as compatible with trackers as others. For instance, those trackers are not as helpful with tracking items in motion and anything that is lost in a remote area (because of a weak Bluetooth signal in remote areas AirTags are not the most reliable devices to pin-point the location). 

As to other objects, many people wonder whether they can attach a tracker to their pets. But as mentioned previously AirTags are not ideal for locating anything that is on a constant move. You would find your pet if it decided to rest, however, to pinpoint your dog’s whereabouts in the neighbourhood would be challenging. The same applies to large parks or acreages. The distance of picking up a signal between your iPhone and an AirTag is limited, hence you would not be able to find a racing dog in a forest.   

If you are looking for a device to track your pets, better invest in a reliable GPS device.   

What about tracking your child?  

Surely, you can attach a little tracker to your kid’s backpack and make sure he is walking safely around the neighbourhood. Yet, for a better connection, especially as your child runs and walks around, we recommend a GPS tracker. Another option is to get an Apple watch for your kids that allows you to create Family Setup and track their movements with a more reliable device that actually uses GPS. Those watches also offer features that help in emergencies such as an SOS button or two-way audio.   

Now, can AirTag track a car?  

It can, but just as with children and pets, with limitations. The tracking will not be as precise as with GPS devices as the car moves, however, as soon as it stops you can turn on Precision Finding and see the location. But always keep in mind that AirTag may get exposed to high temperatures in a car, which reduces its performance or even makes it inoperable. Apple suggests that the best temperature for AirTag to work flawlessly is between −4° to 140°F.    

What are some Apple AirTag alternatives?   

If AirTags does not sound right for you, there are a few other worthy competitors on the market.   

Tile Mate has been on the market before AirTag, and the  main difference is the various shapes and sizes you could pick from. The disadvantage of Tile Mate is a smaller network of devices that connect to the tracker. In comparison, Apple’s worldwide Fine My network offers absolute domination of devices.   

Samsung Galaxy SmartTag comes in a few different colours, but just like Tile Mate, it has the same disadvantage: the device network is rather limited compared to Apple’s AirTag. However, Samsung offers a solution in a form of an upgraded Samsung SmartTag Plus. That version has its own Precision Finding feature that uses your phone’s camera to find the tracker’s location.   

Although Chipolo One Spot is a tracker that uses Apple’s Find My, it is a larger device made from plastic rather than stainless steel. The only difference it has with the AirTag is the absence of the U1 chip, hence no Precision Finding feature.  

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Updated date

March 10th, 2023

About the author

Maria Kossman

Maria Kossman is an essayist, and content specialist at Her writing appeared in a variety of fashion magazines. When she is not focused on reviewing and writing, she spends time exploring coffee shops, English literature and antique malls.
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