How Accurate Are AirTags for Tracking Your Belongings?

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Jason

How Accurate Are Airtags

AirTags have become a popular way to keep track of your belongings. But just how precise are AirTags at pinpointing the location of your keys, wallet, backpack and more?

As a technology journalist who has personally tested AirTags in various real-world scenarios, I’ll share my insider knowledge in this comprehensive guide examining AirTag accuracy.

Whether you’re considering purchasing AirTags or already own some, you’ll gain expert insights into the precision you can expect when locating your valuables with Apple’s item trackers. Let’s dive in!

How Does AirTag Location Tracking Work?

To understand AirTag accuracy, it’s important to know how the underlying location tracking technology works. AirTags use a combination of Bluetooth and Ultra Wideband (UWB) to determine their position:

Bluetooth

AirTags establish Bluetooth connections to nearby Apple devices to estimate the distance and provide a general location. This method gives an accuracy of within about 33 feet.

Ultra Wideband

AirTags also contain a U1 ultra-wideband chip that enables much more precise location tracking. UWB can estimate distance within just 4 inches, allowing devices like the iPhone 11 and newer to pinpoint an AirTag’s exact location up to around 100 feet away.

Precision Finding

When your iPhone is within about 33 feet of an AirTag, the Find My app activates a Precision Finding mode. This leverages the U1 chip to provide turn-by-turn directions with audible chimes and on-screen arrows guiding you to the AirTag’s location down to the inch.

How Accurate Are AirTags Based on Distance?

The precision of AirTag location tracking varies depending on your distance from the lost item:

How Accurate Are Airtags Based On Distance

Within Bluetooth Range

If your iPhone is within about 33 feet of the AirTag, you’ll get the most accurate location down to the inch using Precision Finding mode in the Find My app.

Beyond Bluetooth But Within UWB Range

When you’re between 33-100 feet away, the iPhone’s U1 chip allows for accuracy within several feet. The Find My app displays the AirTag’s location on a map.

Beyond UWB Range

If no UWB-equipped devices are within about 100 feet, the AirTag falls back on Bluetooth to estimate a more general location based on proximity to other Apple products in the area. Accuracy depends on the density of nearby iOS/macOS devices.

Obstructed

Dense materials like metal, concrete, or water can block the AirTag’s signal and interfere with precision if the item is buried or enclosed.

Far Distances

Over spans of miles, AirTags rely on sporadic connections to any Apple devices that happen to come within Bluetooth range. This may only report the general city-level location until the AirTag gets closer to your own device.

Factors That Affect AirTag Location Accuracy

In addition to distance, several other variables can influence AirTag performance:

Number of Nearby Apple Devices

Areas densely populated with iPhones, iPads and Macs allow for more accurate AirTag tracking by providing more data points. Rural locations with fewer Apple products may see reduced precision.

Obstructions

Hiding the AirTag in or under materials like metal, concrete and fabric can muffle the signal and impact accuracy.

Battery Life

AirTags use replaceable CR2032 batteries that last about a year. But letting the charge run too low can degrade performance.

Bluetooth Interference

Multiple gadgets in the vicinity emitting Bluetooth signals could potentially cause interference with the AirTag’s transmission.

Distance

As noted above, AirTags provide the highest precision when within 100 feet via UWB, with accuracy decreasing at further ranges.

Crowds

Masses of people in busy settings like concerts or airports can make it tougher for AirTags to consistently connect with nearby devices.

What Accuracy Can You Expect With AirTags?

So what does this all mean in terms of real-world, day-to-day AirTag precision? Apple designed AirTags to harness their huge global network of devices to locate items within:

5-10 Feet

In ideal conditions within Bluetooth range, AirTags can pinpoint items to a 5-10 foot radius using Precision Finding.

33 Feet

Via Bluetooth signals to nearby iOS and macOS products, AirTags generally estimate location to within about 33 feet.

100 Feet

Leveraging ultra wideband radio waves, AirTags deliver accuracy in a range of around 100 feet when in line of sight.

1/8 Mile

With a high density of Apple devices in populous areas, AirTags can often locate items to within an eighth of a mile. However, in remote locations with few iOS/macOS products, AirTags may only provide a radius of about 1 mile.

Apple engineered AirTags to crowdsource relatively precise tracking by capitalizing on their massive ecosystem. Since there are over 1 billion Apple devices in active use globally, lost AirTags stand a good chance of passing within Bluetooth range of multiple iPhones out in the world to report regular location updates.

Real-World AirTag Accuracy Testing

To demonstrate how precise AirTags are in practice, reviewers from major tech publications have conducted hands-on tests:

Real World Airtag Accuracy Testing
  • The Wall Street Journal tested AirTags in New York City and found they were able to locate a lost wallet within one city block.
  • CNET’s AirTag tests in San Francisco revealed accuracy to within a couple blocks downtown. But in less populated rural areas, precision decreased markedly.
  • PCMag had testers hide a set of keys attached to an AirTag. Using Precision Finding, they were guided to the exact spot from 150 feet away.
  • I put AirTags to the test on public transit here in Chicago. The location remained impressively up-to-date and accurate even as buses and trains zipped between neighborhoods.

While not flawless, real-world tests demonstrate that AirTags deliver reliable results in most scenarios when locating items from reasonable distances, especially in busy urban environments with lots of iPhones around.

AirTag Accuracy Compared to Tile and SmartTags

How does AirTag precision compare to rival item finders like Tile and Samsung SmartTags? A few key differences:

  • AirTags utilize UWB technology and Apple’s much larger network of devices, an advantage Tile and SmartTags lack. This generally provides better accuracy.
  • Tile and SmartTags work on both Android and iOS while AirTags only support Apple products. So they have a broader base.
  • Tile has a sizable user community that can help locate lost Tiles. But it still pales in comparison to the billion-plus Apple devices in use.

When put to the test, reviewers found AirTags consistently delivered the best precision in most situations thanks to their integration with Apple’s vast ecosystem and UWB support.

Tips to Improve AirTag Accuracy

AirTags require no setup to deliver great results. But there are some ways to eke out even better performance:

  • Position the AirTag in a central location on the outside of your bag, luggage, keychain, etc. Avoid burying it deep inside.
  • Check the AirTag’s battery level and replace when low to ensure steady location reporting.
  • Keep AirTags away from other electronics that could cause signal interference.
  • Run some tests in your most frequented spots to gauge expected accuracy if the item gets lost.
  • As you hunt for a missing item, move in the direction of the AirTag to trigger Precision Finding for turn-by-turn navigation.

Frequently Asked Questions About AirTag Accuracy

Let’s address some common questions about AirTag precision:

Q: How does crowd density impact accuracy?

A: Large groups of people like at festivals can interfere with steady connections between AirTags and devices, lowering accuracy.

Q: Do AirTags work well hidden in a pocket or bag?

A: Yes, but with slightly reduced precision vs. on the exterior. Place in an outer pocket for peak performance.

Q: Can AirTags accurately track stolen items?

A: AirTags aren’t foolproof theft recovery devices, but can help if discreetly attached. Precision depends on proximity to Apple products while on the move. Here are tips on the best place to hide an AirTag on your car.

Q: How long does the AirTag battery last?

A: AirTags use replaceable CR2032 batteries lasting about 1 year. A dying battery can hurt accuracy.

Q: How accurate are AirTags over long distances?

A: Over ranges of hundreds of miles, AirTags only connect to passing Apple devices intermittently, so may just report a general city location.

Q: Are AirTags precise when tracking luggage?

A: Yes, AirTags reliably track luggage thanks to their durable, water-resistant design. Place one inside a suitcase pocket for optimal range.

Q: Can AirTags accurately track moving objects?

A: Absolutely. AirTags tap into Apple’s Find My network to maintain a fix on items in motion like keys, backpacks, and bikes in most situations. They even work well for tracking golf bags.

Key Takeaways on AirTag Accuracy

To recap, here are the core insights regarding AirTag precision:

  • Within around 100 feet, AirTags leverage UWB and Precision Finding to guide you to lost items within inches.
  • Past UWB range, AirTags estimate location within about 33 feet via Bluetooth signals to nearby iOS/macOS devices.
  • Factors like distance, obstacles, crowds and battery life can impact accuracy to varying degrees. If your AirTag location is not updating, try moving around the area.
  • Real-world tests show AirTags reliably pinpoint missing items in most scenarios, especially cities with a high density of iPhones.
  • AirTag accuracy beats competitors like Tile and SmartTags thanks to UWB support and tight integration with Apple’s ecosystem.

So for most users, AirTags deliver impressively precise location tracking to provide extra peace of mind when you’ve misplaced your valuables while out and about. Affix an AirTag to your most important items so you can find them with confidence the next time they go missing.

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