In the age of technology, it is wise to use it rather than ignoring it. Companies like Apple Inc., Google, Amazon and Sony etc. are constantly trying to come up with things that help us with our day to day tasks. Google’s Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, and Fire TV stick, Apple’s AirTags to name a few.
Apple Inc. launched Apple Airtags in April 2021, to allow you to track your day life items like car keys, wallet, purse, backpack, luggage etc. At just $29 at retail price, Airtags are a very convenient tool to track items that people lose all the time. I for one, can’t find my car keys on time. I’ve forgotten my backpack at events and hotels countless times.
What are Apple’s Airtags?
Apple’s Airtag is a small circular badge kinda tag that allows you to track your day to day items like car keys, backpack, luggage, wallets etc. The small size (approx. 2cm in diameter) makes it easier to attach it to these items that we most likely lose.
One Apple Airtag costs $29 and you should use Iphone 11 or above for best functionality.
How Does Apple’s Airtag Work?
For Apple’s Airtag to work you have to attach the Airtag to the desired item and connect it with Find My app on your Iphone.
It provides you accurate location of the tagged item to within 10cm (3.9 inches).
But how does it work technically?
In September 2019, when Apple launched its iphone 11 line up, it included a UWB (Ultra-wideband) radio chip in their Iphone 11 which apple planned to use for real time location through UWB.
Apple’s Airtags work on this UWB (Ultra-wideband) technology which uses radio frequency spectrum of 3.1 GHz- 10.6 GHz where each radio channel can have a bandwidth greater than 500MHz.
This 500 MHz wide bandwidth allows it to overcome multipath (when radio waves bounce off walls, objects and don’t reach the receiver at once) and provide precise location.
How Airtag compares to a Passive UHF RFID tag
The main difference between Apple’s Airtags that are based on UWB and UHF Passive RFID tags is the operating frequency as UWB uses a wide bandwidth than passive UHF RFID tags which work on 860-960 MHz frequency range and these Airtags need to emit signals (using an inbuilt battery power source) in order to be tracked by an Iphone. Passive UHF RFID tags don’t use a battery power source which makes them a significantly cheaper option.
Another thing is that UHF passive RFID tags do not provide real time accurate location but can only tell you that a tag was read within a range of 20-25 feet or approx 10 feet left or right of the reader antenna.
Even Active RFID tags that use 433MHz bandwidth are prone to multipath (obstacles like wall or objects) and can only locate an object with 3m (9.8 feet).
The FiRa Consortium:
In 2019, FiRa (short for Fine Ranging) consortium was founded which is dedicated to “transforming the way we interact with our environment by enabling precise location awareness for people and devices”.
The group works to develop interoperable UWB ecosystems including smartphones.
Samsung, Xiaomi, and Oppo are currently part of FiRa group, Apple Inc. is also a sponsored member.
Keeping in mind the huge demand for real time precision location applications, Samsung also enabled UWB technology in its Samsung Galaxy Note 21 Ultra, Galaxy S21+ and Samsung Galaxy s21 Ultra along with Samsung Galaxy SmartTag+.
The bad side of Apple Airtags
Surely, technology eases our daily lives but there is always a flipside to that. The Airtags that Apple developed are no different as news of people being tracked through Airtags started making headlines.
Two women in California, USA filed a class-action lawsuit against Apple accusing Apple Inc. of not doing enough to prevent unwanted tracking of people.
Apple newsroom, addressing these concerns said, “Every AirTag has a unique serial number, and paired AirTags are associated with an Apple ID. Apple can provide the paired account details in response to a subpoena or valid request from law enforcement”.
Apple also enabled ‘Precision Finding’ in Iphone 11, Iphone 12 and Iphone13 to alert users about an unwanted Airtag in their vicinity which can be very helpful in addressing such unwarranted tracking of people.