Apple AirTags: What They Are and How They Work

Apple AirTags are a powerful way to track your belongings. But what are they exactly, and how do they work? Find out everything you need to know about Apple’s smallest device, plus whether you should use them instead of the competition.

What Are Apple AirTags?

Apple AirTags are tech-empowered smart trackers that you can use to keep track of your stuff. Once you pair them with your Apple ID, they show up as a map beacon in Find My, allowing you to track down items that you’ve misplaced around the house — or items you left somewhere across town.
AirTags use a combination of general tracking for distant items and precision tracking for nearby items, giving you even more precise instructions once you get close to a lost AirTag.
AirTags can also play a sound if you trigger it, helping you find a device that’s slipped out of sight.

Isn’t That the Same Thing as Tile?

If you think this concept sounds familiar, you’re right; Tile has been in this game for years now. Tile sells little square trackers that can remind you where you left your keys, the remote, or whatever else. In recent years, Tile has innovated with different form factors. For example, they have a small stick-on dot, a wallet-sized tracker that slides into your credit card slot, and a Pro tracker that’s stronger and louder.
There are plenty of similarities between the two products:
  • Both Tile trackers and AirTags rely on a network of connected devices to power their tracking.
  • They also allow you to locate the trackers from your smartphone with impressive accuracy.
  • Lastly, both are small enough to be both discrete and portable.
So are Apple AirTags just Apple’s version of Tile’s product? It may look that way at first glance, but dig a little deeper and it’s clear that Apple has added powerful new functionality to its product.

How AirTags Work

AirTags rely on multiple technologies to work their magic. General tracking uses Bluetooth and Apple’s proprietary network protocols. An AirTag that’s not near its owner will anonymously broadcast its signal over Bluetooth.
If one of Apple’s billion-plus devices gets within 20 or 30 feet of it, the Apple device will anonymously pick up the signal and transmit it back to Apple. The signal gets relayed back to your Apple ID, and you get a map approximation of where your AirTag is.
Precision Finding operates on a different technology, called ultra-wideband or UWB. Apple’s proprietary U1 chip is embedded in every AirTag and every non-SE iPhone since the iPhone 11. So when you get close enough to an AirTag with a U1-enabled iPhone, you’ll pop into Precision Finding mode, which gives you much more precise data on where your device is.
U1 isn’t limited just to AirTags, either. For example, if you’ve lost your U1-enabled phone, you can use Precision Finding from another U1-enabled iPhone.
AirTags also include advanced privacy and security features. For example, if someone slips an AirTag onto your person or into your bag, Apple can alert you that someone may be trying to track you and even play a warning sound from the foreign AirTag.
If you know you’ve lost an AirTag (or, more likely, a bag or device to which you’ve attached an AirTag), you can set the AirTag to Lost Mode within the Find My app. Once you do this, you’ll receive notifications every time that AirTag gets detected.

Advantages of AirTags

AirTags have a few advantages over Tile trackers. First, the network of devices “looking for” AirTags is much larger than the similar network of Tile devices. This means more accurate and more responsive location data. This accuracy is massively important when you’ve lost an expensive or sensitive item.
Second, AirTags are easier to use if you own an iPhone. Setup is quick and easy, and there’s system-level integration that Tile can’t match.
Last, Precision Finding can be a game-changer in certain situations, and Tile doesn’t have any way to match this feature.

Advantages of Tile Trackers

The biggest advantage Tile has is not being locked into the Apple ecosystem. AirTags are great — but only if you’re an iPhone user. You also have multiple styles and sizes to choose from, and all of them can physically attach to a device without buying another accessory.

Add Device Protection, Not Just Location Tracking, with Upsie

AirTags are a great way to keep track of your stuff and are worth the investment. But as great as AirTags are at finding your stuff, they do nothing to protect your electronics and gear from damage.
To protect your devices from damage, you will need an Upsie extended warranty. Upsie offers extended warranties for laptops, tablets, smartwatches, and more. In addition, Upsie can protect devices from accidental damage, early wear, and manufacturing defects. Upsie also offers a smartphone subscription warranty that is both affordable and comprehensive.
Your AirTags will keep track of your gear and devices, and your Upsie plan will kick in when something goes wrong with the protected device. Get fast and easy repairs — even with accidental damage — and then get back to doing what you do.
Ready to protect your device? Get an Upsie plan today.

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* This article is over 6 months old and may or may not be updated.