What Are Apple AirTags and How Do They Work?

Apple AirTags are quarter-sized Bluetooth trackers designed to help you keep tabs on valuables or frequently lost items like your car keys, wallet, or luggage. We’ll explain how Bluetooth tracking technology works, how to set up an AirTag, how to make sure no one’s tracking you without your knowledge, and more.

Best Bluetooth tracker
Apple AirTag
$29.00
pro Works best with iPhone 11 and up
pro No monthly subscription required
pro Battery lasts about 1 year

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Introduction to Apple AirTags and how they work

How do Apple AirTags work?

Apple AirTags emit a Bluetooth signal that anonymously connects to any nearby device active within Apple’s Find My network. The AirTag’s location is triangulated based on the strength of the Bluetooth signal sent to those third-party devices.

Your AirTag’s location information is uploaded to the cloud and pinned on a map for easy reference.

AirTags can be found in two other ways: beeping and Precision Finding.

If you know the AirTag’s somewhere in your living room, for example, but you can’t find it, use the Find My app to make the AirTag beep. Just follow the beep until you uncover the AirTag.

Precision Finding requires an iPhone with a U1 ultra wideband chip, so it only works with iPhone 11 and up. It’s like a quest arrow in a video game: your iPhone turns into a compass that points toward the AirTag and tells you exactly how far away it is.

What is Apple AirTag’s range?

AirTags need to be within about 33 feet of an iPhone or other device in the Find My network for its Bluetooth signal to register.1 

Does Apple AirTag need Wi-Fi?

No, Apple AirTags don’t work with Wi-Fi.

Does Apple AirTag have GPS?

No, Apple AirTags don’t have GPS. But the technology is similar. Instead of calculating a location using a network of satellites, AirTags use a network of around 1.8 billion iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and Macs.

Are Apple AirTags compatible with Android?

Yes and no. You need an iPhone to set up an AirTag, but you can discover it with an Android device.

Download Apple’s Tracker Detect app from the Google Play store to scan for nearby AirTags. Hopefully one of them is yours.

Can Apple AirTag be on two phones?

Apple AirTag can be used on two phones only if you’ve used the same Apple ID to log into both phones. Apple allows AirTags to be registered to one ID only.

Are Apple AirTags waterproof?

Technically, Apple AirTags are water resistant, not waterproof. They can withstand being under about 3 feet of water for 30 minutes. It’ll be fine in the rain and might even survive a trip through the washing machine, but don’t expect an AirTag to help you find something lost in the lake.

Are Apple AirTags magnetic?

Not by themselves, but you can buy magnetic cases for AirTags.

How much does an Apple AirTag cost?

Apple AirTags retail for $29.00 each.

Is there a maximum number of Apple AirTags I can register to my account?

You can register up to 16 Apple AirTags under one Apple ID.

Image: SafeWise

Apple AirTag batteries

How long do Apple AirTag batteries last?

AirTag batteries should last for about a year with four daily location pings and one daily use of the Precision Finding feature.

Are Apple AirTag batteries replaceable?

Yes, Apple AirTags use replaceable CR2032 lithium 3V coin batteries. Apple warns that batteries with bitterant coatings may not work right in AirTags.2 

How do I replace an Apple AirTag battery?

Press down on the silver side of the AirTag and turn the silver part counterclockwise. Take out the old battery and put a new one in with the positive sign facing up. You should hear a beep to confirm that the new battery is working.

Replace the silver AirTag cover by aligning the three tabs into their slots, pushing down, and rotating the silver cover clockwise as far as it will go.

Are Apple AirTags rechargeable?

No, Apple AirTags aren’t rechargeable. 

How will I know when my Apple AirTag needs a new battery?

You’ll get a push notification on your phone when the AirTag’s battery gets low. You can also check the AirTag’s battery level by going to the Find My app, tapping Items, and then selecting the AirTag in question.

Activating, using, and troubleshooting an Apple AirTag

How do I activate an Apple AirTag?

Before activating an Apple AirTag, double-check the following settings in your iPhone:

  • It’s running iOS 14.5 or later. Go to Settings > General > About > Software Version to confirm.
  • Two-factor authentication is enabled. Go to Settings > [Your Name] > Password & Security > Two-Factor Authentication to confirm.
  • Location services are turned on. Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services to confirm.
  • Find My is turned on. Go to Settings > [Your Name] > Find My to confirm.
  • Bluetooth is turned on. Go to Settings > Bluetooth to confirm.
  • It’s connected to Wi-Fi or has a strong cellular signal.

To activate an Apple AirTag, remove the battery tab. You should hear a beep that confirms the battery’s working.

Hold the AirTag near your iPhone. A pop-up will appear on the screen that says “AirTag.” Tap Connect.

Name the AirTag from the drop-down list or choose Custom to type in a unique name. Tap Continue, and then tap Continue again to confirm that you’re registering the AirTag with the correct Apple ID. Finally, tap Done.

How do I find an Apple AirTag?

If you own the AirTag, go to the Find My app and click on the AirTag’s name. Note where the AirTag is on the map. If it’s nearby, swipe up to show more options. Tap Play Sound to make the AirTag beep. Follow the sounds until you find the AirTag.

You can also say, “Hey Siri, find my [name of your AirTag]” to activate the beeps with a compatible voice hub.

If you have an iPhone 11 or later, you should also see an option for Precision Finding, which shows the direct and approximate distance of your nearby AirTag.

If you don’t own the AirTag, skip down to the question “Is an AirTag Tracking Me? ”

When do Apple AirTags make noise?

Apple AirTags make noise when prompted to do so by someone who’s nearby and trying to find its exact location.

They also chirp within 8 to 24 hours of being separated from their owner’s phone.

You’ll also hear some confirmation chirps when changing the battery or resetting the AirTag.

Why is my Apple AirTag beeping?

It may have gotten separated from your phone. Or, it may have shown up on someone else’s list of “Devices near me” and they activated the beeping to find the AirTag.

If neither of those scenarios seems correct, try unpairing the AirTag from your account. From the Find My app, tap the AirTag’s name and swipe up to show all the device options. Tap Remove at the bottom of the screen and confirm. Then reconnect it like you did originally.

You can also try to reset the AirTag. Remove and replace the battery five times. It will chirp every time the battery is replaced, but the chirp will sound different when you replace the battery the fifth time. This is the “reset confirmation” chirp.

If that still doesn’t work to control the beeping, contact Apple—we’re stumped!

Why is my Apple AirTag not working?

It may need a new battery. If it seems too soon for the battery to be dead, the battery might have a bitter coating that’s causing it to not connect properly to the AirTag.

Double-check that the AirTag wasn’t accidentally removed from your device list too.

Finally, try resetting the AirTag following the instructions in the question above.

Best uses for Apple AirTags

What can you track with an AirTag?

Apple AirTags can track almost anything anywhere in the world. But there are a couple caveats:

  • AirTags aren’t super helpful for tracking items in motion.
  • Because they depend on Bluetooth signals from nearby devices, AirTags aren’t the most reliable way to find anything (or anyone) lost in a remote area.

Are Apple AirTags good for dogs and cats?

It depends. AirTags aren’t designed for tracking anything in motion. Maybe you could use an AirTag to find where your cat decided to hunker down, but you’d have a harder time pinpointing the average loose dog on their romp around the neighborhood.

AirTags also aren’t helpful for tracking animals across large farms or remote parks. If there are no other Apple devices nearby to pick up the AirTag’s Bluetooth signal, its location won’t update in the Find My app. 

All in all, GPS devices are more reliable for tracking lost pets. See our recommended pet GPS trackers or learn more about how GPS works.

Can Apple AirTag track a child?

You can use Apple AirTag to track your child, but we don’t recommend it as an “everyday wear” tracker. It’s best as a supplement to a kids GPS tracker or for use at crowded events.

In an April 2021 interview, Apple’s VP of worldwide iPhone marketing Kaiann Drance recommended using an Apple Watch with Family Setup to track children instead of Apple AirTags.3 Although Drance didn’t go into further detail about the pros and cons of using an AirTag for kids, our take is that Apple Watches are more reliable trackers for children because they use GPS.

With an AirTag, your child has to stay within range of devices in the Find My network and needs to stand still (or move reasonably slow) for an accurate location ping. Those limitations don’t exist with GPS—and you don’t want to butt heads with technology when it comes to protecting your child.

That said, there’s one scenario where AirTags provide better accuracy than a GPS tracker: crowded events. GPS trackers can locate someone within about 16 feet of their true location.4 If your kid’s GPS tracker shows they’re right on top of you but you still can’t find them amongst a crowd of people, whip out the AirTag’s Precision Finding feature to learn exactly which direction to go and how far to walk to find your child.

To combat the issue of AirTags failing to track anything in motion, consider teaching your child to respond to the AirTag’s beeping sound. For example, it could mean “stop and wait” or “go to the family meeting place.”

That said, GPS trackers designed for kids have features that help in a true emergency, like SOS buttons and two-way audio. We recommend those purpose-made devices for keeping track of your child’s location on a daily basis.

Bell
A better option for remote areas

One Precision Finding alternative, the Lynq tracker, retails for $400—14 times more than a simple $29 AirTag. Unless you’re heading out into a remote area, we don’t see any reason why you’d want the Lynq versus an AirTag.

Can Apple AirTag track a car?

Apple AirTags can track cars but with a few limitations.

For example, AirTags don’t work like the Domino’s delivery tracker—you won’t get to watch the route someone takes or know when they’re seconds away from your doorstep. But once the car reaches its destination and stops moving, you’ll see its location—assuming other devices in the Find My network are close enough to catch the AirTag’s Bluetooth signal.

The other potential issue is that an AirTag may get exposed to extreme temperatures in a car that reduce its performance or render it inoperable. Apple AirTag works between −4° to 140°F, so this shouldn’t be an issue except in the hottest and coldest regions.

As with kids and pets, GPS devices are the way to go for tracking cars. Check out our recommended GPS vehicle trackers for more information.

Can Apple AirTag be used to track luggage?

Yes, Apple AirTag can be used to track luggage. You won’t be able to see its real-time progress down the luggage carousel, but you’ll know it safely made it to the correct airport.

Image: SafeWise

Apple AirTag safety questions

Are Apple AirTags safe?

As with so many things in life, AirTags are safe when they’re used responsibly. Unfortunately, people may try to use AirTags to track you without your consent—whether it’s your partner tracking your whereabouts or a complete stranger trying to figure out where you live.

However, Apple now alerts you when an unknown AirTag is moving with you. Android users can get the same protection by downloading the AirGuard app on Google Play.

Watch our video below to learn how to get these alerts and respond to them, including finding the AirTag, identifying the owner, and disabling it.

Video: Are AirTags SAFE? (and how to keep them that way)

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Is an Apple AirTag tracking me?

If you’re an iPhone user, make sure you’re phone is running iOS 15.2 or later. Open the Find My app. Tap Items > Items Detected Near You. Any unknown AirTags will appear here. Tap the AirTag’s name to see a map of its location to confirm that the AirTag has been moving with you. Take a screenshot in case you need to show someone later.

Swipe up for a menu of options. You can play the AirTag’s speaker to help you find it, learn who owns the AirTag, and get instructions for disabling it.

If you’re an Android user, download and open the Tracker Detect app. Tap Scan. If an unknown AirTag appears, you’ll see the same list of options available to iPhone users so you can find it, identify it, and disable it.

If you don’t have a smartphone but hear persistent chirping, it may be an AirTag. They’ll chirp when separated from the owner’s iPhone. Disable it by removing its battery.  

What do I do if I get the “Apple AirTag near you” notification?

Tap the notification to open the Find My app and then tap on the unknown AirTag. Swipe up for options. Tap Play Sound to find the AirTag through its beeps. Tap “Learn about this AirTag” to see the last four digits of the owner’s phone number. Take a screenshot to be on the safe side.

Go to your phone’s list of contacts and type those four digits into the search bar to see if you know the owner. If you’re uncomfortable with what you discover or you don’t know the owner, remove the AirTag’s battery to disable it and contact the authorities.

Miscellaneous Apple AirTag FAQs

What are some Apple AirTag alternatives?

Tile Mate is Apple AirTag’s biggest rival. It was on the market before AirTag and comes in different shapes and sizes. Its main disadvantage is a much smaller network of devices that ping to Tile trackers compared to the absolute domination of devices on Apple’s worldwide Find My network.

In contrast, the Chipolo One Spot uses Apple’s Find My network, is slightly larger than an AirTag, and is encased in rigid plastic versus stainless steel. It works just like an AirTag except it doesn’t have a U1 chip, so there’s no Precision Finding tool. It can’t be submerged like the AirTag. And for those minor trade-offs, you’ll save about a dollar with the Chipolo One Spot.

There’s also the Samsung Galaxy SmartTag, which comes in a few different colors and has the same flaw as the Tile Mate: a limited device network. If you spend about $10 more, you can get the upgraded Samsung SmartTag Plus and benefit from Samsung’s own version of Precision Finding—an augmented reality feature that uses your phone’s camera to light up the SmartTag Plus’s location.

How do I get an Apple AirTag engraving?

You have to purchase an AirTag directly from Apple to get it engraved for free. You can add up to four letters or emojis during the checkout process.

What’s an Apple AirTag Loop?

An Apple AirTag Loop is a colorful luggage strap. A pocket on one end holds the AirTag while the other end attaches to a bag handle.

When did Apple AirTags come out?

Apple AirTags hit the scene on April 30, 2021.


Sources

  1. John Finn, Screenrant, “How Far Does An AirTag Reach? Distance & Range Explained,” June 2022. Accessed August 5, 2022.
  2. Apple, “How to Replace the Battery in Your AirTag.” Accessed August 5, 2022.
  3. Michael Grothaus, Fast Company, “How Apple Designed AirTags to Be Privacy-First and Stalker-Proof,” April 2021. Accessed August 5, 2022.
  4. Frank van Diggelen and Per Enge, Institute of Navigation, “The World’s First GPS MOOC and Worldwide Laboratory Using Smartphones,” September 2015. Accessed August 5, 2022.

Disclaimers

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Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over seven years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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