I’m a forgetful person.
I actually got into this tech business because a former boss of mine once asked me to tackle something, and threw a stack of post-its at me because he knew I couldn’t be trusted to remember. That was the moment I bought my first Pocket PC, just to be able to calendarize everything down, and the rest is history. Yes, that’s why our site is named Pocketnow.
Point is, just like in the case of needing a PDA years ago, I was the perfect customer for Tile when it was launched years ago. I got a few, tried them out, and then realized they were a nice idea with a very bad implementation. The network alone wasn’t really as bad as the idea of having to buy an entirely new Tile when the battery ran out. And sure, I know that has improved over time, but the original problem was enough for the brand experience to be tarnished in my top of mind.
I also realized that even if my problems persisted, I’ve found personal ways around them. Not sure about you, but I follow boring routines as a way to avoid going through the same mess every day. I place my keys in the same pocket, on the same table, and in the same spot in my car. That helps some of the time, but then becomes a problem again whenever I’m holding them for whatever reason and get sidetracked and place them where I shouldn’t. If this is you too, I feel your pain.
Apple has become famous for being the company that’s never first at a product, but whenever they do join the crowd, they do so better than most. We’ve seen this happen with how late they were to smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches, only to own the market years later, but we should also consider that their first-generation versions of everything were pretty bad. I wasn’t willing to adopt an iPhone until the 3Gs, I didn’t recommend an Apple Watch until Series 3, and I quickly realized the first iPad was a $500 piece of nice-to-have hardware that I rarely used.
My love and hate relationship with AirTags follows this same fate. From day one, they already offer features that dwarf any previous attempt we’ve seen from others, and yet are still far from perfect.
One thing to love is this whole Find My network and how Apple has played the long game. Find My iPhone launched with MobileMe all the way back in 2009, became free the following year with iCloud, and did as advertised. It helped you find your iOS device, at least to a certain degree. I don’t think it became interesting until ten years later when it was rebranded into Find My, not just because it helped you track other Apple products like your Mac, but because of the way it pulled it off. A Mac doesn’t have a cellular network, so as an alternative to its lack of permanent communication, Apple played a genius move in using the Bluetooth signal of any Apple product close to it to help you track its location. I’m talking about ALL Apple products, even the ones you don’t own. This alone is what makes AirTags a superior product when compared to other competitors. Sure, Tile has a similar network, but the sheer scale of iOS products in the world will make any other company look bad. We’ve already seen cases where people are able to track an AirTag through the mail, just because of this. Given my travel needs, it’s the reason why it’s an invaluable asset hidden in my luggage.
My problem with AirTags is that they continue an Apple legacy that’s honestly annoying. Ever notice how Apple is great at shipping incomplete products? They’ll sell you a Mac for a lot of money, but they ship it with so few ports that there’s a whole dongle industry just designed to cater to this specific problem. Apple wants to convince you that an iPad is a computer, but well, you have to buy the keyboard separately and that Apple Pencil is also optional, and then these are two other massive industries that are fed both by Apple and third parties. An iPhone, which was originally intended to replace the iPod, now doesn’t ship with earbuds or a charger. You’ll have to buy those separately and make sure you also buy a case because the materials chosen clearly don’t consider regular human use.
So, in typical Apple fashion, I didn’t just spend $99 for the pack of 4. I had to spend an extra $40 just for the key chain accessory, which is honestly terrible quality, and by then I had already spent so much that I refused to spend another dime. I went third party for the other just to compare which is better, and then the third AirTag is in my wallet, just loosely in one of the pockets, and another in my sling bag.
Not exactly sure how Apple went from the company that designed a genius charging brick that could also contain the wire ever since the first iBook. They were first to include built-in speakers with the first iMac. Heck, their MacBook Pros would even ship with a cleaning cloth. The whole concept of Apple Stickers became a thing since day one. This is the company that in the past would bundle its products with extras. It baffles me that for the past decade, the only extras you get in the box of an Apple product, are problems. People are even drilling holes in AirTags just to make them as self-contained as every single competitor that already thought of the obvious first.
That typical Apple mentality stirs my second reason to hate AirTags, and it’s this whole one-size-fits-all mentality. As opposed to Tile, which offers their products in different form factors, be that for your wallet or keychain, Apple only has one design. It’s crazy to think there’s proof that AirTags have been ready to ship for two years, and within that delay period, Apple couldn’t come up with at least a second form factor for your wallet, for example. Now we’ve got people 3D printing cases for their remotes just to address another common solution. I’ve spent the past week seriously considering strapping an AirTag on my garage door controller with tape, just because my building is designed in a way where I have to carry it, and you guessed it, I lose it often too. You’d assume that a company that’s famous for its industrial design would think of all the possible use case scenarios when creating a product, but that’s not the case. For all they invested in bringing MagSafe to the iPhone, AirTags is the one product that needed magnets more than anything.
It’s probably one of the main reasons why I struggle to recommend that anyone consider buying AirTags right now. The network is genius, but the lack of functionality in the solution makes buying into the ecosystem complicated. You need one company to solve all your problems, not just some because, for the amount of money you have to invest, it makes no sense for you to swap between two solutions. If you do the math, Apple thinks you should spend $70 on a keychain. Around that amount on a bag tag holder that makes no sense since anyone can remove it easily. Apple seems to think you don’t care more about your wallet or your remote control, or you tell me what other products you need to be tracked.
It’s the main reason for my third problem, which is that because I can’t use AirTags for everything I care about, they’ve become kind of useless. I know they’re there for some things, but because I can’t have them solve all my problems, I lose trust in the system and forget they’re even there. Just like Tile became this cool thing I forgot about quickly because of their design limitations with battery replacements, I feel Apple’s one-size-fits-all approach has its own way to backfire. That mentality works for a phone or a computer because the form factor serves many different purposes. In the case of AirTags, that’s a different story. Just like you need specialized tools for certain use cases, the only way people can consider AirTags a tool is if most scenarios were considered.
AirTags: The Bottom Line
If there’s something funny about Apple’s recent attitude towards the market, is when they tell you that you have a choice. You do, but that’s honestly a very irresponsible thing to say to a customer. Back when I worked in an airline, I remember that if a bag would arrive damaged, we were instructed to tell the customer that “The bag was designed to protect its contents and not itself.” Yes, we were right, but imagine telling that to a person that just spent $170 on that Samsonite they just entrusted in your service. The least they’d expect is that you don’t treat their property like trash for the amount of money the airline charged for the ticket.
Dear Apple: You’re better than this. I know I have a choice, but you also have a choice too. You can choose to sell self-contained products that thoughtfully solve problems on day one. As much as I’d like to recommend an AirTag as a keychain solution, you make that really hard at a combined price of $70. As much as I’d like to recommend that people jump on your iPad as a computer, that $1400 for an iPad Pro with its accessories is ridiculous compared to your own MacBook Pro. When pricing your products, you should consider the whole banana, and not just the fruit, which can’t ship without the damn skin. I think car companies do it best, where you can pick extras for more money, but the base model has all the basic functionality regardless.
I’m not trying to convince you not to buy AirTags, but I do recommend you think about your needs first before paying so much money. Maybe you don’t need to track your remote all around the city? Maybe Tile has a better solution for your specific needs? It’s funny how AirTags have only made me think twice about Tile, and not the other way around.