Published on April 22nd, 2021 | by Subhash Nair0
Apple AirTags Might Help With Stolen Car Recovery
On April 20th, Apple introduced AirTags, which could potentially be a decent anti-theft device for cars.
If you’re not already familiar, Apple had an event earlier this week where they unveiled a new tablet, desktop. TV accessories, phone colour and AirTags. The last of these additions was particularly interesting. AirTags are a simple, relatively inexpensive new device from Apple. They’re essentially a coin-shaped tracking device that runs on an inexpensive CR2032 watch battery (as low as RM2-RM5 per battery).
What’s special about the AirTags is that it runs on the Apple “Find My” system. If you’re already a user of multiple Apple devices, you’re probably familiar with “Find My”. Previously, you’d need a more complex device like a laptop, phone or tablet to track using “Find My”. AirTags works using Bluetooth and an U1 UltraWideband chip. It bounces off other iPhone users in its vicinity anonymously to keep its location updated. iPhone 11 and 12 users will be able to get a more precise location within a few metres using the U1 chip.
The best part is that they’re relatively inexpensive. US$25 for a single AirTag or US$99 for a pack of four. It’s price competitive against non-Apple alternatives like Tile, yet more feature-packed and is built with IP67 water and dust resistance. And as mentioned above, it only costs a couple of Ringgit to run, with battery changes required about every year or so.
AirTags as Cheap, Effective Car Tracker?
This got me thinking about whether it would make sense to use on a car. In theory, it would be a pretty good tracker. The AirTag is about the size of a large coin and could be taped under a carpet or the spare tyre. You could even have two AirTags hidden in a single car for redundancy (with the batteries replaced at spaced out intervals).
These won’t prevent a car from being stolen, but they’d give you an idea of where the car is. If one of the thieves has an iPhone or even passes by an iPhone user, its location could be VERY accurate. So, yes. I think in theory it would be a decent tracker to recover stolen vehicles.
AirTags Might Notify The THIEF
However, there are a couple of caveats here. The first being AirTag’s built in privary and security. They’re designed so that other iPhone users can’t be tracked without consent. Say your car thief has an iPhone. If it detects that he is travelling with someone else’s AirTags for an extended period of time, he will get a notification on THEIR iPhone to stop the AirTag from updating its location.
Apple did not release very detailed notes on how exactly this would work. Here’s the excerpt from the press release.
“AirTag is also designed with a set of proactive features that discourage unwanted tracking, an industry first. Bluetooth signal identifiers transmitted by AirTag rotate frequently to prevent unwanted location tracking. iOS devices can also detect an AirTag that isn’t with its owner, and notify the user if an unknown AirTag is seen to be traveling with them from place to place over time.”
It gets worse…
“And even if users don’t have an iOS device, an AirTag separated from its owner for an extended period of time will play a sound when moved to draw attention to it. If a user detects an unknown AirTag, they can tap it with their iPhone or NFC-capable device and instructions will guide them to disable the unknown AirTag.”
This means that if your car is stolen and you hope to recover it via a hidden AirTag, you have to act FAST. Before the thief strips the car and finds it. Before the thief is notified via iOS that there’s an AirTag following him around. And before the AirTag starts making a noise to alert him or her to its presence. If only Apple was clear about how many minutes or hours it would take before this happened.
What do you think? Will you be using an AirTag on your theft-prone vehicle? It’s certainly cheaper than fitting an aftermarket anti-theft and location tracking system, though it’s obviously nowhere near as theft-proof. I for one will be hiding one of these on a recently acquired Proton Wira, which is still the most stolen car in Malaysia.