Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony EA Play Live Deepfake version of young Paul McCartney Dune trailer Mercedes-Benz plans all-electric lineup by 2030 Unemployment tax refunds
CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

What's an AirTag? Apple's new trackers, explained

Apple's Tile competitor is now available. Here's what to know about the device-tracking AirTag.

Listen
- 05:34
029-apple-airtag-2021

The AirTag is designed to make keeping track of your items easy.

Patrick Holland/CNET
This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

The new AirTag tracking tiles that Apple unveiled last month are now available to purchase. AirTags arrive as the iPhone maker is showing a growing interest in helping you track items outside of its Apple devices. Apple recently began allowing its Find My app to locate lost items made by third-party companies.

Rumors of a Tile competitor from Apple stretch back to 2019, and the pieces began to fall into place for Apple watchers after AirTag tech was hinted at in the iOS 13 code and when the iPhone 11 was found to have incorporated ultra wideband, or UWB, technology. The groundwork for the gadget was laid even farther back, in 2014, with the iBeacona small, inexpensive Bluetooth transmitter that aimed to provide location-based information and services to iPhones. While Bluetooth can track items to within about five meters, UWB can pinpoint them to within 5 to 10 centimeters. 

Now that the Apple tracking tag has arrived, here's everything you need to know about the AirTag, including how it works, can you get accessories and how to buy AirTags.

Read more: AirTags vs. Tile vs. Samsung SmartTag: Here's how Apple compares to the competition

Now playing: Watch this: Apple AirTags made a good small impression
6:55

What's an AirTag?

The AirTag works similarly to the Tile tag in that you can clip one of the small devices onto keys, a bag or whatever using a separate keychain. The tag can be used without the keychain as well and slipped into a wallet or bag. The AirTag can be paired with items like your iPhone, and it works with the Find My app. (Here's how AirTags compare to Tile trackers.)

The AirTag is a small, lightweight, stainless steel disc with the Apple logo on one side. You can personalize the other side with a free engraving. The new device is also water and dust resistant, with a removable cover designed to make it easy to change the CR2032 battery, which promises a year's worth of battery life with everyday use. 

021-apple-airtag-2021

With one of the AirTag keychains, you can easily attach your tag to bags, keys and more. 

Patrick Holland/CNET

How much do AirTags cost and where can I buy one?

AirTags are now available to purchase for $29 per tag, or $99 for a four-pack (£29 or £99 in the UK, and AU$45 or AU$149 in Australia). You can buy them from Apple, Amazon or Best Buy. And though it's not required, you can more easily attach AirTags to your items with the keychain accessory, including one from Hermès. Here's what Apple is offering: 

  • AirTag leather key ring for $35 in Baltic blue, saddle brown, Product Red.
  • AirTag leather loop for $39 in saddle brown and Product Red.
  • AirTag polyurethane loop for $29 in electric orange, sunflower, deep navy and white.
  • Belkin Secure Holder with strap for $13 in white, black, blue and pink.
  • Belkin Secure Holder with key ring for $13 in white, black, blue and pink.

In addition, Apple and Hermès created AirTag Hermès, which features a line of handcrafted leather bag charms, key rings and travel and luggage tags:

  • AirTag Hermès key ring starting at $349 in orange, bleu indigo and fauve.
  • AirTag Hermès bag charm starting at $299 in orange, bleu indigo and fauve.
  • AirTag Hermès luggage charm starting at $449 in fauve.
018-apple-airtag-2021

Keychain holding an AirTag, to clip on to your items. 

Patrick Holland/CNET

How does the AirTag work? 

After you set up the AirTag (here's how), a process Apple says works the same as pairing AirPods, it'll appear in the new items tab of the Find My app. You can name your items as well, with suggestions from the app or names of your own.

From there, you can see the item's last known location if you've attached an AirTag to it. If the item is within Bluetooth range, you can use the Find My app to signal the AirTag's built-in speaker to play a sound. AirTags also have Siri-support, so your iOS assistant can help you locate the lost item. 

025-apple-airtag-2021

With the Find My app, you can pair your AirTags and name all the items you've connected. 

Patrick Holland/CNET

The tags and the Find My app take advantage of Apple's U1 chip with Ultra Wideband technology to use Precision Finding, a feature that relies on camera input, ARKit, accelerometer and gyroscope to guide you to your AirTag using sound and haptic and visual feedback. With the Find My app, you'll get helpful notes like how many feet away your AirTag is and in what direction. Precision Finding also has a voice-over option to help low-vision or blind users.

If you're out of Bluetooth range, you can put your AirTag into Lost mode and get a notification when it's within range of the Find My network. If someone else finds your AirTag, she or he can use an iPhone or NFC-capable device (even an Android phone) to view your contact number, if you've listed it. 

Do AirTags keep my information private?

During its AirTag announcement last week, Apple touched on privacy. The company said people can participate in the Find My network without having to share their location with anyone, including Apple. Carolyn Wolfman-Estrada, an engineer at Apple, said safety features are in place that discourage unwanted tracking. 

"AirTag is designed to track items, not people," Wolfman-Estrada said during the Apple spring event.

AirTags don't store any location data or history, and communication history through the Find My app is end-to-end encrypted, according to Apple. 

What can I get engraved on my AirTag? 

Apple will engrave one side of your AirTag for free after you purchase. When you reach the order screen, you can use the letters of the alphabet, numbers (zero through 50), and any of 31 different emoji. Because the tag is small, you can choose up to four characters to engrave on the back. As you choose your emoji, letters and numbers, you'll see a preview of what the tag will look like engraved.

air-tag-emojis

A look at the emoji engravings you can get on your AirTag.

Apple

What do I need to use AirTags?

AirTags will need a device running iOS 14.5 or later. Users will also need an Apple ID to sign in to their iCloud account. Here are the compatible devices:

  • iPhone SE, 6S or later
  • iPod Touch 7th generation or later
  • iPad Pro, 5th generation or later
  • iPad Air 2 or later
  • iPad Mini 4
Now playing: Watch this: Did the AirTags survive our durability test?
9:11

What accessories are available for AirTags?

esr-silicone-airtag-keychain

ESR's silicone AirTag keychains are a less expensive option than the Apple x Hermes collection.

ESR

AirTags don't attach to anything straight out of the box, so you'll need to find a way to stick the devices on your stuff. Several third-party manufacturers like Belkin, ESR, Nomad and Hermes are selling accessories such as keychains, eyeglasses straps and hard shell mounts that will hold your AirTag. These accessories range in price from $13 to $449. 

Alison DeNisco Rayome contributed to this report.