W.If you want to locate your car, bike, notebook or pet, you can use a variety of techniques. GPS trackers with a built-in cellular module offer the advantage of high accuracy, but the disadvantage that they are large and heavy and their battery life is only a few days. Somewhat more compact devices use the Sigfox network that is currently being set up for the Internet of Things. The devices are smaller, quite suitable for dogs or cats – and have a battery life of several weeks. However, they work more poorly than right, depending on the network coverage.
Long-running Bluetooth key finders the size of a two-euro coin have been around for years. Beyond the Bluetooth range of up to 50 meters, they work without GPS and rely on network effects and the general public. Other users of the app should bridge greater distances. If just someone with a smartphone and a running location app is near a tracker and detects its Bluetooth signal, this third party can forward the information to a control center via cellular network.
If many users have the app in constant use, you can get the location of your tracker without having to be in the vicinity yourself. The problem with this “crowd GPS” has so far been that it does not work because not enough people run the apps, which vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, on their smartphones.
That is changing now. Apple is entering the market with its new Airtags, and now every iPhone, iPad and Mac with Bluetooth will become part of the crowd GPS, whether their owner wants it or not. The functionality is anchored in the operating system. The “Where is?” App can be found on every newer Apple device, and more than a billion of them form a close-knit network.
If the stroller’s iPhone sees the Bluetooth signal from someone else’s airtag, for example attached to the cat’s neck, it transmits the location to the owner of the airtag, encrypted using his or her public key. The Airtag does not know its location and therefore cannot save it, the locations are not transmitted to Apple either, and the Bluetooth IDs change every 15 minutes to prevent tracking by third parties. If you find an airtag, you can’t find out who owns it, but every airtag has a serial number. In this way, the new Apple system benefits from all the advantages of Bluetooth tracking and avoids its disadvantages. Previous suppliers of Bluetooth trackers such as Tile and others can join the system.
Up to 16 airtags with an Apple ID
The Airtag is slightly larger than a two-euro coin and weighs eleven grams, with one side made of metal and the other made of plastic. The device is protected against dust and water according to IP67. A commercially available CR-2032 button cell should provide a service life of more than a year. A new Airtag is linked to your own Apple ID on the iPhone or iPad and can no longer connect to other Apple IDs from third parties until its owner has removed it from the Apple account. So you can no longer use a stolen air tag. Up to 16 airtags can be linked to an Apple ID.
The airtags can be located on your own device via Bluetooth, for example in the house, and the direction and distance are displayed on newer iPhones of versions 11 and 12 with Ultra Wideband. If an airtag is marked as lost in the “Where is?” App, you can enter a message that will be displayed on third-party Apple devices. Thanks to NFC, this also works with Android smartphones. In order to prevent stalking of people with the Airtag, the device makes itself noticeable if it is moved in a strange environment for more than three days. The Airtag can be switched off by removing the battery. During our first attempts, the technology works fine and as catchy as one might expect from an Apple product.
An air day costs 35 euros, four are available for 120 euros. Apple has come up with a little meanness to fuel the accessories industry: The Airtags have no fastening eyelet, and an Airtag leather key fob costs another 40 euros at Apple. Somewhat cheaper versions are available from manufacturers such as Belkin from 14 euros and even cheaper at Amazon. A Hermès leather key ring is on the price list for between 300 and 450 euros. Overall, Apple is adding a new hardware category to its portfolio that has been around for a long time from other manufacturers. Similar to the Apple Watch. But this time everything is done right – and our own market position is used to help the technology achieve a breakthrough.
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