Adding one feature would make AirTag way more useful


We want to be warned if our AirTag starts to move away on its own.
Photo: Mark Chan/Unsplash

Apple sells millions of AirTags because people want to track the location of their stuff. But the tracker does only part of the job — it only warns the user when their iPhone moves too far away from the tag. Making it also set off an alarm when the tag moves away while the user is sitting still would be a welcome improvement.

This could be done with a changes to the Find My application. No new hardware is required.

A major limitation

Apple’s AirTag is a small gadget that uses wireless tech to make it findable. Attach one to your keys or luggage and you can locate them if they go missing with the Find My app on your iPhone.

Beyond that basic functionality, an iPhone can alert its user when they leave an AirTag behind. For many people, this is more useful than the basic function. They might not lose their keys very often, but would like to be warned if they leave their AirPods at the office.

But those alerts only go off if the user is moving. They are not warned if an AirTag moves too far away from the user while they themselves are stationary.

A significant AirTag enhancement

Anyone tracking a piece of luggage needs to know if it is suddenly not near them. The same goes for a purse. It’s never good if either of these is moving without the user being aware.

And people who keep track of their pets with an AirTag would surely like to be notified when the device moves out of range. If Fluffy jumps out a window into the garden, that’s a problem.

These are only a couple of examples of when knowing that a tracked item is moving away without the user’s knowledge. There are many more.

(Possibly) why Apple has held off

It is possible Apple has already considered adding this feature and decided not to. The company has never said anything about it but what it doesn’t say is important.

The AirTag page on Apple’s website is all about using the device to find missing items. There isn’t even a hint about tracking stolen ones.

The experience of a New York City man probably explains why. His scooter got stolen but he found it with Apple’s tracker. The thieves then beat the $%#@ out of him. In short, Apple could be worried that the AirTag is helping people risk their lives.

Another potential reason why iPhone users aren’t alerted if a tracker tag moves away is power drain. An iPhone will have to contact the AirTag every couple of minutes to see where it is. This is a drain on the handset but also on the tag.

Apple advertises that an AirTag lasts a year without needing a battery change. If it gets pinged hundreds of times a day, that’s going to have a significant effect on the battery.

Also, it’s likely there’ll be numerous false alarms. Everytime Fluffy wanders into the bathroom that blocks Bluetooth signals is going to send her owner a warning that she’s disappeared.

Let users make the decision

But the advantages of being warned that an AirTag is on the move outweigh the drawbacks. Users should be given the option to deal with the problems on their own.

We want to know that our suitcase is suddenly out of contact. If it’s being stolen, we don’t have to get into a violent confrontation. But being notified immediately gives the owner the chance to call for help and get it back before it’s irretrievable.

And Fluffy’s owner might be concerned enough about her to put up with the hassles of false alarms and more frequent battery changes.

It’s all very well for Cupertino to recommend that people not track stolen items with AirTags, but it happens all the time, and the results are often good. And while the tag isn’t intended to be a pet tracker, we’re doing it anyway.

Apple, please add this feature and let us make the decisions. It would make AirTag so much more useful.


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