With Bluetooth tracking devices becoming more popular to help people recover misplaced items like keys and wallets, it’s no surprise that Apple joined the trend. Apple’s tracking technology, called AirTag, is designed to work seamlessly with iPhones and iPads. However, you might think that you can’t use the AirTag to help you find something that’s traveling out of range because Bluetooth is a short-range technology. What happens if you drop your AirTag key chain in your car only to forget where you parked? What if someone steals your car?
The good news is that you can use the road-tested AirTag to track your car, truck or SUV.
What is AirTag?
Let’s back up and discuss what exactly AirTag is. Apple’s AirTags are small balloons that use Bluetooth to signal their location to nearby iOS devices. Bluetooth, like you see with wireless headphones or video game controllers, works over a short range. However, Apple uses a technology known as ultra-wideband, which can broadcast over a greater range of radio signals, minimizing the risk of signal interference. Ultra-broadband also uses less power than Bluetooth, making it ideal for items like AirTags that are hampered by the need for frequent charging.
How does AirTag work?
AirTags use Bluetooth and broadband signals to periodically ping nearby iOS devices. In turn, Apple’s Find My network, the same system that allows you to locate lost iPhones, iPads, and more, analyzes those signals to find their source. With as many devices on the Find My network, the location signal is fairly accurate, and Apple ensures that the location data is encrypted so that only you can access it. For privacy reasons, location data is not stored in the AirTag itself. There is no way to tell which devices AirTag used to determine that data.
AirTags do not use GPS, so location updates are not real-time. Instead, location information is updated when an iOS device running iOS 14.5 or later (or iPad OS 14.5 or later for iPads) moves within 30 feet of the AirTag.
Finally, remember that AirTags are primarily designed for use with iOS devices and the Find My app. Apple has an app available for Android devices called Tracker Detect. Its main purpose is to search for nearby AirTags, for example if someone drops theirs in your bag or car.
Can you use AirTag to track your car?
Because AirTags don’t use GPS, they can come in handy if you misplace your car after parking it, whether you’re parked in a wide open space or in a huge garage. Unfortunately, their reliance on the Find My network means that location data can be less accurate if you’re in a rural area or last out of a car park. On the other hand, in situations where there are more people, location updates will be much more frequent, making the car easier to find.
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What about stolen cars?
If your car is stolen, you still have options as long as there is an AirTag inside. They’re able to update location information even if it’s hidden, so whether you intentionally hide your AirTag in your car, leave it in the glove box, or just accidentally drop it while your iOS device is domain, even if it is stolen, it will continue to be updated regularly.
That being said, chances are the thief won’t keep your car near where he found it. That means you need to enable AirTag lost mode on your phone. This allows you to put your contact information in case you just misplace the AirTag, but it signals the tag to actively update its location when another iOS device passes by, not just yours. Lost Mode allows AirTag to send a notification to your phone when it finds another iOS device nearby, showing its location, even if you’re not actively trying to track it.
Lost Mode also won’t alert nearby phones about your AirTag; it only sends the information to devices connected to your Apple ID, allowing you to find your car without alerting whoever stole it.
A few caveats
A number of privacy concerns arise with tracking devices like the AirTag. In response, Apple implemented counterintelligence measures. Nor are they limited to using the Tracker Detect app mentioned above. Instead, if the AirTag has been out of range of its corresponding iPhone or iPad for 72 hours or more, it will start beeping occasionally, alerting people nearby to its presence. This is ideal for security, but not so much for car theft, so you need to act fast if your car goes missing.
AirTags won’t just beep; they will send a notification to any iOS or iPadOS device in range as long as they are running iOS/iPad OS 14.5 or higher. If your thief is using Android and doesn’t know about Tracker Detect, this is less of a problem than the beeper, but it’s something to be aware of.
Additionally, AirTags use CR2032 batteries, which Apple says have a lifespan of about a year. If your AirTag dies, it cannot broadcast its signals, even at the low power that ultra-wideband technology uses. Your phone should warn you when the battery is low about a month before the AirTag’s battery dies, so you have time to replace it. Of course, your phone also needs to be connected to use the Find My app, so it’s worth investing in a wireless charger or spare battery if you don’t have access to the Find My app.
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Powerful Tracking Technology
Like any other technology, AirTag has its drawbacks. But AirTags can definitely come in handy if you tend to lose something or the unthinkable happens. Whether you use an AirTag key fob to track backpacks, keys, and other personal items, or stash them in your car anyway, there’s a good chance you can use your AirTag to find what you’re looking for. Using MagSafe cases, iPhone 14 cases (or another case compatible with your phone) and AirTags will allow you to ensure that all your belongings are always protected.