With the opening of the “Where is” network, the question arises: why are you waiting for Apple’s Airtags?
While we wait and wait and wait for Apple to finally unveil its long-rumored Bluetooth trackers sometime this year , there was actually some Airtags-related news this week. Instead of an ultra-broadband Bluetooth tracker for 30 euros, Apple announced a massive expansion of its “Where is” program at. This allows third-party manufacturers to include their devices in Apple’s own network.
Only three companies are participating in the program at the start – Belkin, Chipolo and VanMoof. But it’s easy to see that there is potential for rapid expansion. We haven’t got our hands on a “Where is” device to test, because they won’t be available until April 15th. However, it seems as easy as integrating an iPhone or a pair of Airpods into the “Where is” app. Plug in the device, then you can follow its blue dot in the app, ping it if it’s lost nearby, and track it even if it loses its internet connection.
“Where is” from iOS 14: iPhone locates any objects
Apple also announced a draft Ultra specification for chipset manufacturers that will allow devices to use the ultra-broadband chip in the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 for super-precise tracking. It’s the first practical application for the U1 chip – Apple is currently using it to expand Airdrop a bit – and will be available for the upcoming Galaxy Smarttag + and the rumored UWB Tile dongle. It is not a prerequisite for the “Where is” participation that the devices support the U1 chip, but it will certainly offer advantages.
Samsung will be selling a UWB version of its Galaxy smart tags later this month.
While the number of “Where is” capable partners is small at the start, the devices available are quite different. Van Moof sells two e-bikes (the S3 and X3) that cost 2,000 euros each, Belkin has a pair of wireless earbuds, and Chipolo has a circular key fob. Apple has already indicated that more partners are on the way, and developers of all sizes need to be curious.
iOS 14.5 can warn of stalking with airtags
I still expect Apple’s trackers to hit the market sometime this year, but after this week’s announcement, I don’t know how necessary they will be. Airtags have always been hard to sell, and now that third-party devices have direct access to where is, it’s even harder. The introduction of “where is” for third-party devices not only weakens the effect of airtags, but makes them largely irrelevant before they even hit the market.
Top notch third party devices
Legacy devices cannot be upgraded to add “where is” support, but neither does it look like “where is” incurs any kind of cost to manufacturers. For example, the same Van Moof bikes that have Where Is assistance now cost as much as they did before. And while the upcoming Belkin Freedom True Wireless Earbuds for just under 100 euros have a surcharge compared to the Soundform headphones for 60 euros, they also bring better battery life, noise suppression, aptX audio, wireless charging and automatic ear detection in addition to the “Where is” – Connection.
Van Moof bikes now support Where is.
These are the types of devices that would be tailor-made for airtags. But with the integrated “Where is?” a standalone Bluetooth tracker becomes irrelevant. And while Belkin, Chipolo and Van Moof tend to be in the high-end segment, there will likely be dozens, if not hundreds, of “where is” devices available by the end of the year. And if we can just buy a where is device, why should we buy an additional tracker, even if it’s made by Apple?
Leaker: Airtags still in March 2021
Of course there are always keys, rucksacks and luggage that can get lost, and the Chipolo One Spot Tracker relies on the “Where is” integration to sell a special edition black tag. Even without Apple’s trademark, it’s hard not to see the One Spot as a direct competitor to Airtags whenever they hit the market. And it would be an odd move for Apple to sell a competing tracker in front of any of its launch partners. Assuming they cost about the same, anyone interested in the Chipolo Tracker would undoubtedly choose an airtag instead, especially if they were rumored to cost the same.
We knew Apple’s “Where Is” network and “Objects” support was coming in iOS 14, but the evidence seemed to suggest that this applied to Airtags rather than third-party support. Implementing “where is” directly in devices makes more sense than attaching a clunky tag to everything, and the more devices register for the program, the less the need for Bluetooth trackers.
Plus, if a bluetooth tracker hits the market, there are sure to be more to come. Some will be cheaper, some will be sleek in design, but they will all put pressure on airtags to be successful. As far as I can tell, Airtags won’t be able to do anything that the Chipolo One Spot can’t, apart from possible UWB tracking.
Unlike Airpower, Apple never announced Airtags.
Apple’s tracking system for its devices is second to none, and bringing the same level of privacy and encryption to third-party devices is a real win for consumers. But given the choice between devices that don’t need adapters and a tracker that looks and acts like the rumored airtags, Apple’s trackers look pretty irrelevant, especially as more “where is” devices hit the market . Apple’s trackers will likely be prettier, but other than that, what’s really the selling point? The main advantage of Airtags over Tile and other trackers would be the integration with “Where is” and the connection to the larger iPhone-based network. But if other devices can already do it,