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AirTags in 2021? Samsung’s SmartTags are here, so Apple rumors are really flying

AirTags in 2021? Samsung’s SmartTags are here, so Apple rumors are really flying


Will we ever get AirTags?


This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

Samsung beat Apple to market with its SmartTag bluetooth trackers, which will hit shelves at the end of the month. Apple’s rumored AirTags tracking devices remained elusive during Apple’s 2020 events, but there could be reason to believe the new gadgets aren’t far off. Apple has reportedly enabled third-party companies to use the Find My software to locate lost items. Twitter user @JPEGuin, an app developer, tweeted screenshots after typing the URL scheme findmy://items into Safari.

When CNET tried to replicate this on desktop, Safari asked if we wanted to allow the page to open “Find My” and then launched the program for setup. 

Apple unveiled plenty of devices over several events last fall, including a new line of Macs that will run on the company’s self-designed M1 chips, along with the iPhone 12 line, the Apple Watch 6 and a slate of new iPads. In October, tech analyst John Prosser tweeted suspicions that AirTags were pushed to 2021.

The AirTag tech was hinted at in the code for iOS 13 in 2019, but rumors were circulating even before that software arrived. When Apple debuted new ultrawideband, or UWB, technology in its iPhone 11 models, speculation heated up that Apple could release a competitor to Tile’s popular trackers

The rumored AirTags may seem similar to iBeacon, an implementation of Bluetooth low-energy wireless technology, which Apple first debuted in iOS 7 in 2014. The beacons were small, inexpensive Bluetooth transmitters that aimed to provide location-based information and services to iPhones. For example, if a retailer has a beacon in its shop and you have the retailer’s app, when you pass the shop you might get an alert for a special offer.   

The new tracker tags could work a little differently, however. It’s likely that, as with Tile’s tags, you’ll be able to clip the AirTags onto your keys, a bag or a child’s toy or slip them into your wallet or passport. They could also be stuck on a device, remote control, outdoor gear or other small electronics to help you keep track of lots of different items. There’s also a potential leather keychain image that’s been circulating — similar to the design spotted in a patent released last year — and resurfaced by Prosser earlier this month.

Nothing has officially been confirmed to date, but CNET reached out to Apple for more information about what we can expect this year.

Here are all the rumors we’ve heard so far about Apple’s possible tracker tag tech. 

Not so much of a rumor: They’ll be named AirTags

The name AirTags appeared in an Apple support video spotted by Appleosophy which surfaced last April, showing users how to erase their iPhone and return it to the factory settings. In the video, now listed as private on YouTube, the demonstrator navigates to the Find My iPhone page in the phone’s settings, and you can see an option for enabling offline finding for “this device and AirTags.” 

The name AirTags was previously spotted by 9to5Mac in the iOS 13.2 release in October 2019. In the file system, a folder for Apple’s latest version of its mobile operating system was labeled “AirTag.” It would reportedly be paired with your iPhone, like the AirPods, and you could track items using the Find My app. 

Rumor: Battery 

Apple’s rumored tile tracker competitor could have a removable CR2032 coin cell battery like the Tile Pro, according to a report last March from MacRumors. CR2032s aren’t rechargeable and must be replaced. MacRumors suggested that the battery could be removed or replaced by unscrewing the back of the tile tracker. 

A previous rumor pointed toward the tile tracker having an Apple Watch-style magnetic charging mechanism. This could mean we might see two different models of the tile trackers. 

Rumor: Waterproof

Last February, the Japanese blog Macotakara reported that the tags will be totally waterproof.

Rumor: Setup process 

MacRumors reported that screenshots, which surfaced in October 2019, depict an updated version of the Find My app. One of the screenshots published by MacRumors features an Apple logo. Underneath the logo, the screen reads “Set Up New Tag.” Other screenshots show instructions to pull the tab on your Tag and bring it near the iPhone to start the adding process. The screenshots refer to the Tags by their codename, B389. 

Rumor: Tag design

After Apple’s WWDC’s keynote presentation in June 2019, “Tag 1.1” was spotted in the original iOS 13 code by developer Steve Moser, and whispers began about the company developing its own alternative to the Tile trackers. Further examination of the original internal build showed that the tracker would likely be small and circular, with the Apple logo in the center

Rumor: What the tag can track

If the tracker tags are going to mirror Tiles, it’s possible that they’ll be able to clip onto various items. The iOS 13 code suggested the tags will be battery-powered and able to attach to items like keys, a purse or a backpack, and could then be used to help you find them if the item is lost. The tracker tags can reportedly pair with your iCloud account by proximity to an iPhone or other Apple device. 

You would reportedly get notifications when the device gets too far away from the tag, so you wouldn’t lose things. If the tagged item is in a location that you’ve set as a safe place, you won’t be notified by the app. If you tap a button on the phone app, the tags could chime. If you put an item in “lost mode,” other iPhone users might be able to contact you if they find the lost item.

The tags and app might also have an augmented reality feature to help find lost items. A red floating AR balloon might appear over the area when people are looking through the screen in the app to help them get a more precise location, according to the iOS 13 internal build, as reported by MacRumors.  


Thomas Northcut/Getty Images

Rumor: The U1 chip in the new phones prepares other Apple products for the tags

When Apple debuted its new line of phones at the iPhone 11 event in September 2019, it added a new chip to its phones. The U1 chip takes advantage of ultrawideband technology, which will allow increased precision when locating other U1-equipped Apple devices by offering “GPS at the scale of your living room,” MacRumors reported. This isn’t confirmation of the tracker tags, but it appears like Apple is laying the groundwork in its new devices. 

Since older iPhones don’t have the U1 chip, it appears likely that Apple would give its trackers both Bluetooth and UWB technology so that it would work with non-iPhone 11 models. However, the newer models will likely pinpoint tracked devices much more accurately. While Bluetooth can track items to within about 5 meters, UWB can track items up to a distance of 5 to 10 centimeters

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