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Help, I can't find my AirPods! iOS 15 comes with a new way to track them down

Apple is making it even easier to use Find My on missing wireless earbuds and headphones.

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The AirPods Pro are tiny and easy to lose. iOS 15 makes it easier to track them down. 

Sarah Tew/CNET
This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple.

Apple's AirPods are convenient, but also really small and extremely easy to lose. It turns out, those pesky wired earbuds had the one advantage of serving as a sort of physical tether. Apple plans to extend the range of its electronic tether over your AirPods Pro and AirPods Max with iOS 15 for the iPhone. (Developers can download iOS 15 developer beta now.)

Currently, you can use Apple's Find My app to help you locate a lost earbud, but it only works if you're within Bluetooth range of your AirPods -- that's approximately 30 feet, or 10 meters. And they need to be outside of the charging case, which isn't ideal if your earbuds are miles away and in their case. That's about to change.

Once iOS 15 is officially released later this year (the public beta should arrive in July), you'll be able to find your lost AirPods no matter where they are, even outside Bluetooth range. Here's what we know and what you need to know about how the feature works. 

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The Find My network is key for lost AirPods and more

Apple's Find My network is what makes it possible to locate a lost or stolen Apple device like an iPhone, the recently released AirTags and third-party devices like an electric bike. 

You can read more about how the Find My network works here, but here's the short version. Every Apple device scans and locates the Bluetooth signal of Find My-compatible devices. 

Once it's located, the Find My network sends you an alert of your item's location. Every step of the process is encrypted, and the only person who can see your item's location is you. 

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Use the Find My app to mark your AirPods as lost. 

Apple/Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

How to turn on Lost Mode for AirPods Pro or AirPods Max

I haven't been able to test the new feature yet, but using Apple's WWDC demonstration and my familiarity with the Find My app, I have a pretty good idea of how it will work. 

After realizing you've lost your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max (sorry standard AirPods owners, it looks like you're being left out for now), open the Find My app on your iPhone. Tap on the Devices tab, then select your AirPods. A map will show you the last location you had your AirPods, including the time. 

Using the card at the bottom of the screen, you can mark the AirPods as Lost. (You may have to swipe up on the card at the bottom of the screen to see all available options.)  

When Lost Mode is enabled, the Find My network will begin searching for your AirPods. Once they're found, you'll receive an alert on your iPhone with their current location. 

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Trigger your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max to play sounds, making it easier to find them. 

Apple/Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

You know where your AirPods are, but now what?

After getting to the location of where your lost AirPods are, you have two options. You can use the Find My app and trigger your AirPods to start playing a sound that gets louder as it plays. Apple said it doesn't matter if your AirPods are inside the case or not. You can choose to play the sound on the left, right or both earbuds. 

The other option is to use the same proximity view that Apple's AirTag trackers use. If you have an iPhone 11 or newer, the proximity view will tell you the direction and distance, down to the exact inches you need to go to retrieve your earbuds. 

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Your iPhone will help you remember your AirPods when you leave them behind. 

Apple/Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

Separation Alerts make it hard to lose your AirPods in the first place

Apple also announced another new Find My feature for the AirPods called Separation Alerts. As the name implies, the Find My app will alert you when you've left your AirPods behind, hopefully preventing you from having to go on a scavenger hunt. 

Integrating AirPods with Find My is just one of many new features Apple announced. For starters, the iPhone is getting a whole bunch of new FaceTime features, and the iPad is getting better at multitasking. Check out everything else Apple announced at WWDC in our roundup here.