Apple AirTag: What a difference a year makes [Review] | Cult of Mac

Apple AirTag: What a difference a year makes [Review]

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Apple AirTag: What a difference a year makes [Review]
Apple AirTag was kind of meh when it launched. It's gotten better in many ways since then.
Photo: Auguras Pipiras/Unsplash

A year ago today, I reviewed the AirTag on launch day. I was unimpressed. Now that I’ve used Apple’s item tracker for 12 months, I can say it’s better than it seemed in my first impressions.

That said, there’s still room for improvement when Apple releases an AirTag 2 or AirTag Pro.

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AirTag tracker works well in daily life

I criticized AirTag in my original review for being weak at its central task. Back then, it wasn’t as easy to use an iPhone to find the tiny tracker as it should have been. Mostly because the wireless signals didn’t transfer through walls very well.

Fast forward a year, and there’s been a lot of improvement. In new tests done in 2022, my iPhone was able to use the tracker’s built-in ultra-wideband technology to locate the AirTag at a longer range than before. From about half my house, I can pull up the Find My application on the handset and get an arrow pointing to the lost item.

Of course, that means I still depend a lot on the speaker built into the gizmo. And that’s OK. When I realize I’ve misplaced my keys, I open the Find My app and hit Play Sound to make the tracker start beeping. I follow the sound to the general area, then hit the Find button. This brings up the arrow pointing to the object.

Use Apple's Find My app to locate your AirTag.
The Find My app is how you locate an AirTag.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

That’s the way AirTag was supposed to work from the beginning. But when testing it last year, the range for UWB was far more limited. Perhaps the difference is that I upgraded from iPhone 12 to iPhone 13 since my original review. It’s possible the newer handset is better able to connect to the tracking tag.

In short, many months of experience shows me that AirTag does what it’s designed to do. I’ve used it plenty of times since launch day, and it’s always come through for me.

Separation alerts are wonderful

One of my favorite features wasn’t available at launch. Now, your AirTag can tell you you’ve misplaced something before you realize it yourself. Turn on a separation alert in the Find My app and you’ll be notified if you get too far away from the tracker. You can, for example, put an AirTag in your purse and stop worrying that you’ll leave it at the office.

I wrote a how-to with more details on setting up separation alerts.

This wasn’t an option until iOS 15 debut in fall 2021, so I couldn’t bring it up in the original AirTag review. It definitely would have made me more positive about the product.

AirTag offers immense battery life

My 2021 review praised Apple’s designers for putting in a removable cover that allows the AirTag battery to be replaced. A year later, I still think that’s a great idea, even though it’s not something I use as often as I thought I would.

That’s because 12 months later my device is still on the original battery. And it’s just a bit below 50%. Amazing.

No attachment loop is still a problem

But one severe flaw in the item tracker hasn’t gotten any better in the last year. It can only be solved with a new version.

Thee problem? There’s no attachment loop on the AirTag. And it’s ridiculous that users must add a case to attach the device to anything.

Apple should release AirTag Pro with a built-in loop. Really, there should have been one in the original model, but a new version with a loop is the best solution now.

True, in the year since launch day, a wide array of cases has launched. I’ve tested a few of them, including Belkin’s key ring ($12.99) and the Orbitkey Slim Case ($14.90). But they shouldn’t be necessary.

Apple should wise up and release AirTag 2 or AirTag Pro with a built-in loop.

AirTag: The stalker controversy

Maybe Apple should just dump AirTag
Creeps love AirTag. But there are changes Apple could make so it would be much less useful for criminals.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

In one way, AirTag might actually work too well.

The tracker tag can be located by other people’s iPhones, Macs and iPads via Bluetooth. That means you can find your AirTag at the train station you left two hours ago if someone with an iPhone wanders near it. And the system works extremely well in places with lots of iPhones, like cities.

The problem is that creeps use the tracker to stalk people. I have suggestions for ways Apple can make AirTag less useful for scumbags. One of these is placing a limit on how often someone can report a lost item. Anyone using the Find My app to locate an AirTag every single day is almost certainly a stalker.

Find yourself an Apple AirTag

I have an AirTag on my car keys. Not because I lose my keys very often – I don’t. But years ago, a tracker tag helped me locate them lost in a trash bin. I have no idea how they got there, but I never would have found them by searching the old-fashioned way. I was alone and not at home, so completely losing my keys would have been a complete nightmare. As it was, I had them back in less than a minute.

That’s just something for you to think about when considering whether to buy an AirTag. You can pick one up for $29. Or a set of four costs $99.

Buy from: Amazon

After a year, I’ve really warmed up to the little tracker tags. Enough that I want Apple to build the tech into all its accessories.