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This is what happens when you lose an Apple AirTag

Apple has horned into the trackables market with the AirTag tracking button. But what happens when you lose one?
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

As a Tile user, I was keen to see how effective Apple's AirTag trackable buttons were. So, despite being on a semi-sabbatical, I made a pilgrimage to the nearest Apple Store (Glasgow, Scotland -- great experience, very good COVID protocols), and picked up a few.

And then I did what any sensible person wouldn't do and threw $30 purchase onto the ground to see what would happen.

Must read: iPhone users - Do this today!

Before I could do that, I had to activate the tracker, and being an Apple product, this was about as simple as it could be.

Tucked into a shop doorway to avoid the worst of a Scottish downpour, I unboxed the AirTag, unwrapped it from its protective film -- which also removes the battery isolator -- held it next to my iPhone for a few seconds, and the AirTag was live.

It was ready for testing!

A part of me wanted to dump the AirTag into a flower box just down the road from the Apple Store, but that seemed like too easy of a test. That street is one of the busiest in Glasgow, and given the proximity to the Apple Store, there would be a lot of iPhones here.

That seemed like cheating.

I needed somewhere a little more secluded.

I chose an entrance to the Kelvin Walkway, a trail along the River Clyde. It was a well-trodden path, but not too well-trodden.

It was also an AirTag's throw away from my hotel.

So, I snuck out and hid the AirTag in the undergrowth on the side of the path.

On getting back to my room, I fired up the Find My app and put the tag into Lost Mode.

Then I waited.

I didn't have to wait long before someone carrying a compatible iPhone (an iPhone equipped with Apple's U1 ultra-wideband chip) walked past, allowing the tag to ping its location to me, without the person whose iPhone it was having any clue that this was going on.

Millions of other iPhones quietly keeping an eye on my stuff.

The AirTag continued to ping its location to me regularly as iPhone users walked (or ran or cycled) past.

Very cool.

I left the tag out in the Scottish weather for 24 hours, where it was subjected to quite a soaking, before retrieving it. The rain had buried the AirTag in some mud, but the Find My app made it easy to retrieve.

I must admit that I was impressed. Very impressed.

Based on my admittedly limited testing, I feel that AirTags already blow Tile out of the water.

How do I know? Because along with the AirTag, I left a Tile, and while that can be detected and monitored in a similar way when another Tile user running the Tile app is within communication distance, my Tile didn't send me a single ping during the 24 hours that it was "lost."

I'm glad I left it with an AirTag!

I was so impressed by how many times the Airtag pinged me its location that I decided to leave the tag in a different, more rural location. I'll be picking it up in a couple of months (if it's still there and has survived being outdoors for all that time). As of the time of writing, I know the tag is where I left it because I'm getting regular pings.

I like it a lot. It does what it's supposed to do, and given how many U1-equipped iPhones are out there, it gives me peace of mind that if I lose something, I'll be able to find it.

I'm curious to see how well the tag holds up to prolonged exposure to the elements, which I why I decided to carry out a longer test. I'm also not thrilled by the fact that Apple wants an additional $29 for a little polyurethane loop to hold it (Belkin do make a cheaper one), which turns a $29 tag into a $58 tag, and that that price I start feeling that my AirTags need their own AirTags.

But I'm sure that the market will be flooded with cheap holders real soon, solving that problem.

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