Earlier this year, Apple introduced AirTags as their answer to asset tracking. Designed to provide a “private and secure way to easily locate the items that matter most,” AirTags leverage Apple’s “Find My” ecosystem so you never have to wonder where you left things.
Reminiscent of a shiny coin, AirTags can be tethered to just about anything by using a variety of consumer-available accessories and adhesives. AirTags come equipped with a speaker that plays alerts to help you locate them, and a removable cover that allows you to replace the battery.
IT Asset Management vs. IT Asset Tracking
Asset management and asset tracking are terms that are often used interchangeably. With Apple’s introduction of AirTags, it’s logical to wonder whether asset tracking could be interpreted more literally.
Unfortunately, AirTags currently face a number of limitations that prevent them from being well-suited for a business environment:
- Apple currently enforces a 16-AirTag limit for each individual Apple ID
- AirTags can only be tracked by one person, and not by a team or role-based account
- AirTags are only compatible with late model iOS devices
- AirTags are only capable of outdoor tracking (like the location of vehicles, or items in transit) as long as an iPhone is in close proximity
- AirTag configuration lacks the sophistication to group tags and assign them to a single asset or individual (consider an employee who would need individual AirTags for their ID badge, company provided laptop computer, and any associated peripherals)
Fun Gadget or Business Tool?
Many of us will remember those old keychains that beeped uncontrollably in the presence of clapping. Apple has delivered a modern day equivalent with a gadget that’s dripping with potential, particularly as geofencing functionality improves and evolves.
As a business tool, AirTags aren’t quite there yet; but now is the time to start brainstorming, planning, and asking the questions that these technologies may be able to answer.
Beyond tracking inventory and managing company assets, AirTags of the future could provide safety and security services for businesses.
- During a disaster, AirTags on employee ID badges could signal whether everybody was able to safely evacuate
- If an employee drops their building keys or ID badge in a parking lot, location history provided by the AirTag could confirm whether these were moved or used in any way that would require risk management mitigation
- For industries where information security is a critical concern, AirTags could provide an additional layer of authentication, with software requiring that the device owner be present
AirTags Security Risks
Since their release, would-be evil-doers have had a field day hacking AirTags with some success. So what are the biggest security concerns?
Everyone knows that you have keys, a wallet, and a smartphone. While it may be tempting to take advantage of the custom AirTag naming feature, be mindful that you may be broadcasting an inventory of highly desirable items.
Tracking Lost (or Not Lost) Items
Once an AirTag is set up, the associated item will be integrated into Apple’s Find My app, allowing users to view the current or last known location. When an AirTag is placed in ‘Lost Mode’, it can communicate with any nearby NFC-enabled smartphones. If found, the AirTag provides a webpage with your phone number and other information. While these communications are said to be encrypted and anonymous, the possibility of hackers exploiting these features is a concern.
Sharing the Unexpected
Because an AirTag is designed to broadcast GPS data, it’s also possible it could transmit other arbitrary data. It’s important to note that this is actually a potential vulnerability of Apple’s Find My network more so than the AirTag itself.
Tools for Stalkers
Probably the most significant privacy concern is enabled by the best features: because they are discreet and incredibly portable, you may not even know you have one on you. Not to make you paranoid, but consider how easy it would be to toss an AirTag into someone’s car, backpack, or purse without drawing any attention?
Apple has tried to implement safeguards to protect against this, by having the AirTags play a sound when away from their owners (at random time, between eight and 24 hours later). Alerts are also given on your iPhone if an AirTag is constantly with you that isn’t connected to your device.
Unfortunately, it should be assumed that these safeguards can only help if the AirTag hasn’t been hacked or modified in a way that negates them.
Where Exactly Were You
It’s great that you can find the last known location of your valuables, but what if someone could review a comprehensive log of the places you have been? Did you take your company smartphone to a rival business for a job interview? Did you (and your AirTagged keys) use the company car to run personal errands during business hours? While AirTags don’t currently offer this kind of detail, it’s important to consider that these helpful tracking devices could also become tattletales (or alibis).
Apple wasn’t the first to develop item tracking tags, and a few alternative products exist as strong competitors. While fundamental functionality is comparable across all of these devices, a few pros and cons do stand out.
- Compatible with both iOS and Android devices
- Available in a variety of form factors
- Some functionality, like separation alerts, requires a premium subscription. However, this annual cost also includes warranty extension and free battery replacement, which may make this entry more of a pro than con.
- Community find feature relies on fellow Tile users, making it the smallest peer-location network compared to Samsung Galaxy Find and Apple Find My).
Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTag and SmartTag Plus
- Can be used as a remote control for Samsung smart home devices
- On-screen gauge gives a true sense of how close or far you are to the item you are trying to locate
- Short battery life only offers six months, compared to one year for AirTag and 1-3 years for Tile devices
- Can only be used with Galaxy devices
- No separation alerts are currently offered
- Samsung Galaxy users do not participate in the Galaxy Find network by default, requiring consent and opting-in. While not entirely a negative thing, this means there are only an estimated 70 million ‘helper-devices’ participating, compared to Apple’s hundreds of millions
Chipolo One Spot
- Considered to have many of the benefits of an AirTag, in a less conspicuous package. Some users may feel that the AirTag is too flashy, the Tile too square and obviously a tracker, while the One Spot looks like a simple matte black plastic token.
- Utilizes Apple’s Find My app.
- One Spot is rumored to be more fragile than other trackers, and unable to handle moisture and dust-based abuse
How Does AirTag Compare?
- Separation alerts help you to remember items frequently left behind
- AirTags can act as a shareable NFC contact card
- Works with VoiceOver accessibility feature to give step-by-step instructions, spoken out loud with Precision Finding, to assist users with visual impairments
- Volume cannot be adjusted
- Can only be used with iOS devices
Don’t discount the value of first-generation, novelty technology. Even though AirTags are currently best used to help you find the items you’ve misplaced around your home, they are also inspiring us to think about their future potential.