Apple AirTag Launches After Apple Opens Its Network to Third Parties

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By Jonathan Collins | 2Q 2021 | IN-6141

Apple’s long-expected entry into the smart tag market was made official in April with the launch of its new AirTags. The coin-sized devices carry an array of wireless protocols and a replaceable battery to leverage the huge Apple device installed base and bring new functionality and scale to the smart tag market. The launch followed Apple announcing it had opened its Find My application to third parties including an existing smart tag supplier.

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Long-Expected Apple AirTag Still Surprises

NEWS


Apple’s long-expected entry into the smart tag market was made official in April with the launch of its new AirTags. The coin-sized devices carry an array of wireless protocols and a replaceable battery to leverage the huge Apple device installed base and bring new functionality and scale to the smart tag market. The launch followed Apple announcing it had opened its Find My application to third parties including an existing smart tag supplier.

Apple Embeds Bluetooth, UWB, and NFC to Enrich and Expand Functionality

IMPACT


The new AirTags deliver their precise location to Apple devices and the Find My network via a range of integrated wireless technologies. Bluetooth Low Energy within the device communicates proximity to any paired Apple mobile device within range. If the device is an iPhone 11 or 12, then UWB in both the tag and the iPhone can deliver pinpoint directional guidance on the phone screen to guide the user to the AirTag. In the wider world away from the home and in public spaces, the AirTag can also communicate its location to any nearby Apple device supporting Find My. That can help the owner of the device get the location of the AirTag on their own device via the Find My app, but also should the tag be found, an NFC communication from tag to NFC-enabled smartphone (Apple or Android) can help deliver details on who to return the tag to. All the connectivity comes from embedding Apple’s U1 chip, which also ships in the latest Apple Watch Series 6. The battery-powered AirTags also have an audible alarm to help in locating the device, which is also engaged if the tag is away from the paired device for a period of time.

Days ahead of the AirTag launch, and just as key, Apple announced it had opened the core Find My network application that supports and drives its AirTags to third parties to integrate into their own products. First among those taking advantage were VanMoof with its latest S3 and X3 e-bikes, Belkin in its Soundform Wireless Earbuds, and smart tag specialist Chipolo’s in its ONE Spot Bluetooth tag. Additional third-party device manufacturers will offer Find My-enabled products and accessories soon, according to Apple.

Network Access and Smart Home Extension

RECOMMENDATIONS


In line with Apple’s long-rewarded strategy for new products and technology adoption, the company is not inventing a market or even the application of each technology. For example, keen global rival Samsung announced its own SmartTag Bluetooth trackers alongside its new Galaxy S21 phones in January this year. Unlike AirTags, Samsung launched with two different versions of SmartTag—SmartTag and SmartTag Plus. SmartTag uses Bluetooth Low Energy as its connection standard, while SmartTag Plus adds ultrawideband for greater location accuracy, but as with iPhones, UWB is only available with the latest handsets—the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, the Galaxy S21 Plus, and Galaxy S21 Ultra. In addition, long-time smart tag pioneer Tile has offerings that have evolved to include a range of features and technologies—most recently integration with Amazon’s Sidewalk LPWA network, but also a rumored UWB-supporting product as well. However, it should be noted that Apple’s leveraging of NFC for third-party tag identification is a protocol further than its largest competitors have so far supported.

Even so, as has been seen many times before, Apple has a clear advantage in its ability to leverage its installed base and its ability to package new tech and new hardware in commercially appealing forms. In the case of AirTags, that means a network of nearly 1 billion shipped devices combining to give the Find My network an unparalleled dense global reach. That is a significant advantage for its AirTags, but also in growing the availability, acceptance, and awareness of the concept of tagging personal items among a wide range of consumers. By making the Find My network available to third parties, the functionality has the foundation for greater expansion into markets that Apple may never have any interest in competing in, but it will still keep it at the heart of the capability.

Within the smart home, tagging items has greater long-term worth than just finding misplaced keys or wallets in the home. Alongside the latest iPhones, Apple has also embedded UWB in its latest voice control front-end device, the HomePod mini. That means there is potential for HomePod mini’s to not just support Siri requests to find devices or set off tag alarms, but also to combine with tags deployed through the home to better understand and organize the home itself. Understanding the environment in the smart home, from the precise location of important items in the home to recognizing individuals as they use a space, will be the bedrock of a host of personalized, intuitive, and reactive controls within a home, enabling space to be used more efficiently and enjoyably. With Find My at the heart of locating capabilities and the precision of UWB, there is the potential for rooms to organize themselves around individual occupancy and preferences. The greater the network understanding of device location within a home, the greater the ability to maximize the space and its use. If you know where items are without having to see them, storage becomes a very different proposition, as does searching for items. The latest AirTags are priced at US$29 for one or US$100 for four. With UWB supported in more and more Apple devices and price erosion and competition flowing to tags pricing, it is easy to imagine self-identifying capabilities in a wide range of smart home items. Apple is positioning itself to be best prepared to leverage that understanding throughout entire homes.

 

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