Apple AirTags Are the Perfectly Boring, Functional Future of AR

Apple’s AirTags have found their way to market. The long-rumored competitor to Tile—a tiny Bluetooth tag you attach to frequently lost items—was unveiled today during Apple’s spring hardware announcement.

The event included everything from newly redesigned iMacs to overpowered iPads, and though the new AirTags are the most diminutive of all the new gadgets, they will become part of a vast network of nearly a billion wirelessly connected Apple devices—and non-Apple devices, since AirTags can be attached to pretty much any physical object. In an introductory video for the product, an Apple Man (typically a white, slightly disheveled, on-the-go kinda guy) couch dives for lost keys. He eventually finds them, because he thought to attach an AirTag to his keys, and his iPhone has pinpointed exactly where they are.

This scenario was somewhat possible before the launch of AirTags, using only Bluetooth. But Apple is touting the precision of AirTags, which use a special chip to aid in location, and has also said that AirTags will support visual and audible cues.

This latter feature points to another emerging platform for Apple: augmented reality. While the company didn’t explicitly say AirTags will be used in AR apps, immersive computing experts point out that the AirTags technology is using ARKit, Apple’s software framework for AR, and that tying digital information to nearby physical objects is an important step in the evolution of this tech.

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Location, Location, Location

Slapping an AirTag on that suitcase makes it easier to find at baggage claim.

 

Photograph: Apple

Each AirTag is around the size of a quarter and can be attached to devices using some kind of keychain or other accessory. (Oddly, they’re not adhesive; then again, Apple loves to sell overpriced accessories.) They rely on the existing “Find My” network, which launched to the public in 2019 and utilizes Bluetooth technology to let you connect with nearby strangers who own an iPhone or iPad in order to recover your lost items. The resulting system is a giant, anonymous, end-to-end encrypted network. Almost all current Apple products are compatible with Find My.

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