It was as eagerly anticipated as any other product introduction by Apple. When it was announced that the Apple AirTags would arrive on April 30, 2021, fans lined up to get a look at the little round tags that were a bit smaller than a quarter and powered by removable batteries. Users can connect to the tags through Apple’s “Find My” software. Promised to be affordable, the tags could be placed in wallets or purses; attached to a keychain, bikes or be placed in a car’s console, glove box or stuck on any possession that can be lost, misplaced or left behind. For anyone who has ever spent time searching endlessly and retracing steps to find something lost, the tags promised to shorten the search time and ease lamenting over a missing article. As the time for the introduction neared, prognosticators predicted another Apple gold medal performance, and once again Apple delivered.
The prediction was that AirTags would likely be a hit with consumers at $29.95 each, or a pack of four for $99.99, and could add $3.3 billion dollars to the company’s 2021 revenue. Over 60 percent of Apple’s most loyal fans were positioned to purchase the little tags when they debuted last April. At Amazon, the finder-tags soon became the online retailer’s best-selling item in the electronics product lineup. Consumers were happy to learn that the little transponders were compatible with more than one billion Apple devices already in circulation. The Tag is a small, button-shaped tracking device that can be customized with an engraving and a silver backing. They each measure 1.26 inches in diameter, with a height of 0.31 inches and weight at just 0.39 ounces. The little tattle-tales work on iPhones and Android devices.
But like so many innovative, well-intentioned helper products, evidence soon began to arise that some people were using the devices for the wrong application. Stories of stocking and car theft were reported across the country as bad actors attached the unassuming broadcasters to unsuspecting targets. Law enforcement continues to receive increased complaints from domestic violence and cyber security victims. “Location tracking is a serious concern for survivors and a common tactic of abuse,” said Erica Olsen, director of the Safety Net Project at National Network to End Domestic Violence. “Apple is getting a lot of attention because of the size of their network, which can make these devices more precise than other similar tracking devices. We are concerned about all possible tracking options because of the safety risks.”
Not completely surprised by the nefarious use of its new product, Apple engineers began introducing upgrades to the device’s software and its app companions. To deter unwanted tracking, an AirTag will play a sound if it’s away from its owner for too long. That lead-time period has been delayed from three days to a randomized time from 8 to 24 hours. Unsuspecting users will now receive an “Unknown Accessory Detected” alert when someone has planted one of the trackers on them or a vehicle. An Apple press release said, “We design our products to provide a great experience, but also with safety and privacy in mind. Across Apple’s hardware, software, and services teams, we’re committed to listening to feedback and innovating to make improvements that continue to guard against unwanted tracking.”
Consumer concerns over the safety of AirTags may be having an impact on sales as Amazon announced a discount on the four-packs of AirTags. The action is considered a “tell” because Apple products are rarely discounted, even in the latter stages of a product’s life cycle. Safety concerns are increasing as after-market modification tools are beginning to show up on Ebay. These tools are designed to disable the “Unknown Accessory Detected” message notification to potential victims.
Despite the danger, Apple users will likely continue to add the Tags to Apple shopping lists as the gold-plated technology leader continues to seek improvements to unwanted uses of the Tags. Apple’s competitor, Tile, reported $205 million in sales after the Apple introduction but since has announced that it would be purchased by Life360. “This acquisition marks a key step forward towards Life360 achieving its vision of being the world’s leading platform for safety and location services,” said Chris Hulls, co-founder and CEO of Life360. Regardless of all the security concerns, the tracking market sector is sure to continue to be a competitive hide and seek environment going forward.