In 2023, being forgetful is a thing of the past when there are so many device locators on the market to track your most important items.
AirTags, Tiles, SmartTags, Cube Shadow – there are ways to track your wallet, passport, keys or bike to prevent them from getting stolen or misplaced. Travelers are even using them to locate their lost and mishandled luggage.
But how do AirTags really work, and is it safe to stick them to your prized possessions? Here’s everything you need to know about Apple’s wireless tracking devices.
How do AirTags work?
Apple’s AirTags use Bluetooth connection to determine the location of your items.
According to Apple, nearby devices send the AirTag’s private, encrypted location to iCloud, which appears in your “Find My” app. The “Find My” app includes any Apple device you’ve signed into using your iCloud account.
You can also set your AirTag to “Lost Mode.” Apple sends notifications that your item “is no longer detected near you” with an estimated location if it believes you have left something behind. This is a setting that you can turn off in the “Items” section of the “Find My” app. You’ll either be able to see a precise location or a last-seen location if the tag is unable to connect to Bluetooth.
To find an item that has an AirTag, follow these steps:
- Tap the “Items” tab in the “Find My” app
- Tap on the item you want to locate
- Hit “Find,” the function with the green arrow
- Start moving around and follow the onscreen instructions that point to your item’s precise location
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How far away do AirTags work?
An AirTag can technically be detected anywhere in the world as long as there are other Apple devices around it (even outside of your own) that can signal to iCloud. You might have a bit of trouble on an uninhabited island, but as long as there are other devices around you, they’ll help to locate your device.
This doesn’t mean Apple users are actively hunting for your lost items – our devices contribute to crowd-sourcedlocation data all the time without sharing the exact location of other users.
Do AirTags work without Wi-Fi?
Yes. AirTags do not connect to Wi-Fi at all, instead using Bluetooth connection to establish location. You must use cellular data or Wifi to open and use the “Find My” app, however.
What does it mean if it says AirTag detected near you?
Getting an “AirTag Found Moving With You” notification on your device can be scary. Apple warns users “The location of this AirTag can be seen by the owner,” and it may prompt you to fear you’re being followed.
And while there certainly are horror stories of those who have been tracked using the devices, there are other plausible explanations as well. It could be attached to an item you’re borrowing, an item of a family member in a Family Sharing iCloud group or if you’re traveling with a friend who has AirTags attached to their items.
You also may see a more specific alert, telling you “AirPods” have been found moving with you, for example. Apple sends these alerts when devices are either separated from their owner or are seen moving with you over time.
If you see this alert, click on it to open the “Find My” app and see exactly where the AirTag has been following you from. According to Apple, dashed red lines will appear to map where the device has been detected with you, but it doesn’t show when or if the AirTag’s owner is viewing its location. You can select “Play Sound” to get an audio cue and locate the device following you, or you may be able to use Precision Finding to locate the AirTag’s exact location if your iPhone is compatible.
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