Apple AirTag release date rumours

It’s been obvious for months that Apple is plotting a new category of product: a wireless tracking tile. You’ll be able to attach this to your wallet, keys and other important items and then track them in your Find My app, just as you can currently track the location of your iPhone, Apple Watch and MacBook.

The clues were first spotted in an internal beta of iOS 13, and we’re now fairly sure that the product will be branded ‘AirTag’. In this article we discuss all the evidence that suggests such a product is in the works at Apple, speculate on when it will be released by the company and how it’s likely to work.

Release date

We expect the AirTags to be launched in November 2020. But it’s uncertain whether they will be ready in time for the ‘One More Thing’ event Apple has announced for 10 November 2020. (Here’s what else to expect at Apple’s November event.)

Apple 10 November event invitation

Apple 10 November event invitation

Apple had planned to launch the AirTags back in the spring of 2020, but the product was postponed due to COVID-19. (The pandemic caused production delays, but also created a situation where many of Apple’s potential customers were stuck at home, with little requirement to track the location of their items.)

However, it now looks like the AirTags will finally be unveiled in November. In late October leaker Jon Prosser tweeted that AirTags testing would finish on 6 November ready for the gadget tags to launch within 30 days of that date.

Will the 10 November event come too soon for that timeframe? Perhaps – in which case we can expect them to be slipped out in a press release in the weeks afterwards.

Leaker L0vetodream also suggested in October that the AirTags could be “coming soon” and that there are in fact two AirTags.

All of this is a huge improvement on Prosser’s previous forecast (made earlier in October 2020) when he suggested that the launch might be postponed until March 2021. This may still happen, of course: by collecting a range of predictions, we hope to illustrate the degree of uncertainty that remains.

What are AirTags?

This is supposedly what Apple is calling its tracking device, although it’s been referred to by some pundits as simply ‘Tag’ and also by the codename B389.

AirTag makes sense from a branding point of view, benefitting from the popularity of the AirPods and highlighting the wireless aspect of the product. The company has long since abandoned the ‘i’ branding convention, so the main choices were AirTag or Apple Tag.

The product appears to be Apple’s answer to the Tile range of products. It could take the form of a sticker which you apply to whatever you want to track but seems more likely to be a little circular disc with an Apple logo in the centre as indicated by assets that appeared in the iOS 13 beta (more on that below).

Further ‘proof’ is a disc rather than a sticker comes from what may be a leaked manual that indicates that the AirTag will charge wirelessly.

The same leaker has also posted images that are said to show how the AirTag will attach to a keyring.

Macotakara reports that the AirTag will be not just water-resistant but “completely waterproof” – although we’re depending on Google Chrome’s translation from the Japanese for that phrase, and it’s debatable exactly what it means. An IP rating of IPX8, one would imagine.

Leaker L0vetodream claims that there will be two different AirTag sizes (as per the tweet above).

AirTag software

The evidence so far suggests that the AirTag will work with the Find My app. However, in another article, Macotakara has suggested that the AirTags will be compatible with App Clips, a new feature coming in iOS 14 that allows users to download a smaller version of an app to do a specific task. 

How AirTags will work

The AirTags are expected to work something like this:

  1. You link your AirTag to your iCloud account.
  2. Attach AirTag to your keys, luggage, or whatever it is you don’t want to lose.
  3. You will get a notification if you and your iPhone move out of range of the AirTag (so that you don’t leave it at work, for example).
  4. If you do lose the tagged device you can use the Find My app to locate it. The app will use AR tech to direct you to your item.
  5. If you can’t track it down you can mark it as lost. Then, when someone finds it, you will receive a notification and they will get your contact details so they can return the item to you.

In terms of how the AirTag actually works (the magic behind it) Electronic Design (via MacRumors, again) notes that the AirTag will use UWB, which “is able to effectively measure distance between two devices with 5 to 10cm accuracy, compared to roughly 5m accuracy for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth”.

UWB is used by the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, which suggests the AirTag may only work with those handsets (as well as later devices such as the iPhone 12 range).

It’s thought that users will receive a notification on their iPhone should they move out of range of the tag, which should stop you leaving your keys in the office. You will apparently be able to add certain locations that can be ignored, though – if an item is safely in your house, for example.

If you lose your tagged item you can attempt to locate it on the Find My app because the AirTag (or whatever it will be called) will transmit its location using this low power form of Bluetooth and other Bluetooth devices will relay the location back to you via the Find My app.

If you can’t locate your tagged item you can mark it as lost. It seems that once it’s marked as lost if someone passes within range they will receive a notification on their phone with your contact details allowing them to contact you to return the device.

Evidence for AirTag’s existence

Why are we so sure that this product is coming? There is a surprising amount of evidence that has leaked out via assets that appeared in the iOS 13 beta last year, while earlier in 2019 sources confirmed to 9to5Mac that there was an object tracker project underway at Apple.

9to5Mac first reported that Apple was working on a Tag back in April 2019. At that time 9to5Mac wrote about the new Find My app, that hadn’t yet been released and indicated that people involved in the development of the app were aware of a new hardware device codenamed ‘B389’ that would allow users to track any item using the app.

Then, in June 2019, 9to5Mac indicated that there were references to this Tag device in iOS 13. The first beta of iOS 13 included an asset package for a device with the product type ‘Tag1,1’, they wrote.

MacRumors also wrote about an internal build of iOS 13 that incorporated graphical assets including an image of what appears to be the tracker itself – although this may be placeholder art or an earlier prototype, and therefore the released product may look significantly different.

Apple to unveil 'Tag' object tracker: MacRumors artwork

Apple to unveil 'Tag' object tracker: MacRumors artwork

There was also an updated interface for the new version of the Find My app found in the beta version of iOS 13 in September 2019. This app (which now combines the old Find My iPhone and Find My Friends apps into a single interface) had three panes in this beta version: People, Devices, and Items. The first two correspond to friends and Apple products, but the third points to items tagged with the new tracker.

Apple to unveil 'Tag' object tracker: Find My Items

Apple to unveil 'Tag' object tracker: Find My Items

The September screenshots obtained by MacRumours also include the codename for the device – B389. And include the words “Tag your everyday items with B389 and never lose them again” indicating that it is an object tracker as assumed.

Pundits also believe the interface will let you view tagged objects in augmented reality as evidenced by balloon illustrations that appear in assets. It’s thought that red and orange balloons will illustrate the location of the item using AR technology.

The abundance of evidence is enough for respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo to give the rumours his backing. In a research note in September 2019 Kuo said the tags will be based on UWB (ultra-wideband) technology, which uses minimal power and offers high locational accuracy within a building.

Further reading

Interested to know what else Apple’s got planned for 2020? Our predictions article covers the full 12 months.

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