How are AirTags Doing So Far?
Close to a year ago, Apple released its new product — the AirTag. Rumored to be in development nearly two years before their unveiling, AirTags caused quite a stir immediately upon release. Much of it was positive, as people praised the idea of making a tiny tracker that, in theory, makes anything easily findable, but some critics asked how an easily recognizable tracker would help in case of theft and what Apple would do to protect the privacy of users if an AirTag was placed on them to track them and not a lost item.
Throughout the year, multiple tweaks and updates have been made and the AirTags now exist in a position much different to where they started. But are they better off and what kind of future does the technology have?
Tracking and Stalking and General Creepiness
The immediate concern of stalkers planting AirTags on unsuspecting victims was first addressed with a firmware update, released prior to the product’s launch. The anti-abuse measures were pretty basic: if your iPhone detected an unrecognized AirTag in its vicinity, it would inform you with a notification and, after a three-day period, an alarm would sound, for about fifteen seconds, to let you know that someone saddled you with an unwanted piece of tracking tech. The notification could easily be lost in the sea of notifs from all manner of sources and depended entirely on your Bluetooth being on, and the barely audible alarm could quite literally be missed if the AirTag was, say, in your car while you were inside the house. What’s worse is that even these small measures were straight up not available to those who use Android, “roughly half of Americans”, according to The Washington Post. It took 7 months for Apple to wise up and release an app for Android that copied these precautions. The catch? It had to be running to even detect anything.
Even if assume the perfect conditions — you pay attention to your notifications, your phone is always with you, the AirTag happens to be close by when the alarm is supposed to sound — you could still be fooled into not noticing it. Apparently, AirTags are quite easy to pry open or, if you’re in a more destructive mood, drill through, meaning anyone with the right tools and an inquisitive mind can modify the little gizmos. While most people would use this to retrofit their trackers with holes for keychains and loops, a stalker could easily get inside the device and take away its sound-making capabilities. Now imagine a completely silent AirTag, that you might not even know about, hidden away in one of your car’s nooks. A January report by the BBC shows this isn’t exactly far-fetched as multiple women reported this scenario happening.
Thankfully, the situation has seen another improvement as the alarm will now play not after three days but within 8 to 24 hours, a decent update to the system. While it does not negate the problem completely, it mitigates it somewhat.
Convenience Not Included
On a less scary but no less annoying note, remember how I mentioned that people would literally drill holes in their AirTags to make them attachable to keychains, backpacks and so on? Well, that’s because Apple did not provide a way to attach your $30 gadget to your belongings, imagining instead how cool it would be to root around on the bottom of your backpack in search of the AirTag, swiping away old breadcrumbs, lint and that pen you lost when you were still in college.
There is, of course, an official “tool” for keeping your AirTag secured, the so-called Loop, which costs another $30 and is made out of polyurethane. Its size is not adjustable, it is not included with the purchase of an AirTag and there is no official alternative besides “just throw it into a pocket and forget it’s there”. A+ for moneymaking schemes, F for convenience.
Despite the problems with misuse and design, it must be said that AirTags do serve their purpose quite well. The precision is, as one might expect, great, the tag’s size is just right for attaching it to things that might be lost. Even the Android app, which has some problems, should be counted as a pro in this situation, considerably improving the Tag’s usability. Not to mention the fact that it’s probably one of Apple’s most reasonably priced products. If you were in the market for a tracker and somehow have not yet picked up a pack of these, you’d be wise to do so.
My personal feelings end up somewhat ambivalent as I see less utility for trackers in general than I do problems with such a product category. However, Apple is poised to corner the market anyway and if any company is going to tackle the problematic areas of trackers, it will be the brand-obsessed Apple. The company wants to curate a certain style of user, so I’m certain there are more firmware, and possibly design, tweaks to come.