Opinion

Apple AirTags are refreshingly practical

So many lost hours I'll never get back

I love living in the future. On Monday, a small NASA helicopter on Mars became the first vehicle from Earth ever to fly on another planet. Earlier this month, our Technoking Elon Musk previewed his really expensive Tesla highway beneath Las Vegas. In March, Facebook showcased a wrist device that reads your mind and eliminates the need for a keyboard.

But the recent invention that makes me the most grateful to have been born late enough in the 20th Century to get a chance to integrate it into my life? It's Apple's long-rumored AirTags, which the company formally announced on Tuesday at their "Spring Loaded" event. (Well okay, AirTags and advances in synthetic messenger RNA technology). After all, flying cars are going to be useless if you can't find your keys.

Apple has reportedly been working on AirTags since as far back as 2019; the small, flat, circular devices are able to be attached to items like wallets, keys, or laptops, and then located using the company's Find My app. This is extremely exciting news for people like me, who chronically misplace things (no really: I once had a full breakdown when, ungroomed and running late for a movie, I realized I'd somehow lost all of my hair brushes at the same time). Though AirTags admittedly aren't as glitzy as a new iPhone or 4K Apple TV — which were also announced on Tuesday — the tiny locator devices do present an immediate opportunity for me to improve my life by never losing an Apple TV remote between the couch cushions again.

AirTags obviously aren't some massive technological breakthrough, to be sure. A similar locator device called Tile already exists; like AirTags, Tile is a Bluetooth tracker that plays a "loud but sweet little tune so you can easily find" your lost item once you're within 100 to 200 feet of it, Better Living reports — think of it as basically a tech-assisted game of Hot and Cold. Apple has taken that idea and run with it, CNN reported ahead of the "Spring Loaded" event: The company's devices use "the same U1 ultra-wideband chip as the iPhone 12," which makes "tracking more accurate than competing devices from companies such as Tile, Samsung, and Sony." AirTags even allow users to "walk around several feet and move your ‌iPhone‌ up and down until a balloon comes into view" on screen, pointing toward where your wallet/keys/nice kitchen scissors might have run off to, MacRumors reports. And if the AirTag happens to be out of Bluetooth range — say, left at a restaurant — then "the Find My network can help track it down," Apple writes, explaining that "the Find My network is approaching a billion Apple devices and can detect Bluetooth signals from a lost AirTag and relay the location back to its owner, all in the background, anonymously and privately." I will be doing that with my umbrella.

I'm not exactly about to cover everything I own in AirTags, though. The devices run $29 a pop (or $99 for four), which is quite the investment just to never lose your hairbrush again. Additionally, AirTags don't have the same flexibility as Tile, which comes in different shapes and sizes; you're limited in what you're able to track by virtue of the AirTag's shape (though already third-party retailers are selling ways to adapt your AirTags to different items).

That said, I'm fully willing to admit I'm a sucker for Apple's easy integrations, and more inclined toward AirTags than I otherwise would be just because all of my electronics, from my Apple TV to my phone to my laptop and tablet, are already a part of their ecosystem. There's also — I hate to admit — the Apple "cool" factor going for AirTags. While having a Tile attached to your keys or purse might be a curiosity to nosy onlookers, Apple products are status symbols. Just look at AirPods, which are about the ugliest devices out there, but still used by professionals because of the brand; AirTags could easily become the same, bouncing on the straps of Hermès totes everywhere.

Tech companies are constantly inventing things that are mostly useless, or already exist, but AirTags actually … might improve my life? It's embarrassing to talk about tech earnestly this way, but it's true; what I'd give to have all the hours back I've spent searching for things that a cat batted under the couch! It's the little tweaks to life that I find myself appreciating these days: the appointment-booking apps that make it so I never have to call my doctor, the things on my phone that tell me what stars and mountains and airplanes and birds I'm looking at, the running headphones designed to leak just enough sound so that I don't get hit by a car (and which, coincidentally, double as a Tile).

So yes, I'll be the first to admit that AirTags are probably yet another thing I've been foolishly convinced by Apple that I need. But if it means never losing the mail key again, I'll take my L.

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