Apple VP Answers YOUR AirTag Questions!

Apple's Kaiann Drance, VP of WW Marketing and Ron Huang, Senior Director of Sensing and Connectivity, join me to talk AirTags use cases, privacy and security features, anti-stalker protections, accessories, features, and more!

I'm Kaiann Drance and I work on the Worldwide Product Marketing team, focused on iPhone.

My name is Ron Huang. I work in software engineering, focusing on Sensing and Connectivity.

So AirTags, widely anticipated, we have the announcement now, but for people who maybe aren't so sure or aren't aware of this product category in general, what are the types of activities or the types of uses that you think people will put these to?

Anything basically that you might want to find, that you might lose, that maybe goes with you from place to place and gets left behind, for example, I think one of the most easily relatable ones is your keys, perhaps your purse, your wallet, your backpack, you could look at other things like your bicycle. It could even be like athletic equipment, or if you play a musical instrument and you're always taking that from place to place, you could imagine a whole host of things that you might want to put an AirTag with.

Yeah, especially put on my kids' stuff. They take their bike to the park and they forget about it. And then so, that's how I've been using a lot of mine, for sure.

I've heard some people mention pets as well, and I think jokingly, husbands, I'm gonna assume jokingly.

Well, certainly AirTag was designed to track items. There's a whole bunch of items you can keep track of. If people do use it with pets, they're moving pet would just have to come into contact with a device in the Find My network for it to see its last known location.

So, this brings to mind a bunch of questions, because these types of products have been in the market for years. But as we know, whenever Apple enters a market, it just puts a ginormous spotlight on it. And for AirTags, I think that's focusing on privacy and security. So, from an owner's point of view, what is Apple doing to make sure that their privacy and their security is being respected?

Really privacy is at the heart of this whole product. It's our first consideration when we're adding any capability to the AirTag throughout the entire development journey. And then, so we looked at this from two perspectives, like you said, the first one is from the owner's side. As you probably know, the AirTag works on a Find My network by emitting Bluetooth identifiers, right? And we ensure that these identifiers rotate many times a day and also are not reused. So, when you travel with an AirTag from place to place, you're not re-identified, right? And it's also super important that the Find My network is end to end encrypted. As you probably know, the Find My network leveraging the entire Apple user base, so it offers a great scale, approaching a billion devices and by far the largest in the world. And this is gonna be really crucial to help you find a lost AirTag or a lost item in general, right? But it's really important for us that it's designed to be private and secure from the ground up. So, the entire network is end to end encrypted. And this means that the finder cannot tell who the AirTag belongs to, and the owners can't tell who helped them find the AirTags, right? And the best of all is that Apple doesn't get the location from either side.

So, if people are familiar with Find My iPhone, Find My iPhone, those sorts of technologies, is that a good reference point for AirTags?

It is in a way, because since iOS 13, as you may recall, we added offline finding to your iPads, your Mac, to your iPhones, and then so the same Bluetooth-based Find My network mechanism is the same one we're using right now for AirTags as well as the third party Find My enable products.

And I also think because people have loved Find My iPhone and Find My Friends over the years, and now being able to see them all in the Find My app, just having that same interface exists for AirTags in your items. It's just a really familiar way for users who are familiar with that loved feature, to be able to now locate their other lost items with AirTag. And we've also included some capabilities that you might be familiar with from Find My iPhone. For example, Lost Mode is one of them. So when enabled, you can designate a phone number as a contact for someone to help get in touch with you to recover your AirTag and your lost item. And when you're in Lost Mode, your iPhone will receive a notification when your AirTag has been detected by a device in the Find My network. And what's great for someone who just finds your AirTag, they can simply take any NFC reader device, tap on the AirTag, and be taken to the Lost Message, as well as the contact number that you provided.

Another capability we added to AirTag that is similar to iPhone is also iPhone has Activation Lock which prevents somebody from picking up your lost phone and just start using it as their own again. The AirTag has what's called Pairing Lock. And this means that also somebody who finds your AirTag can't just re-pair what their own iPhone and continue using it.

Yeah, I was gonna say there might be some people who value, for example, cross-platform solutions. They have big gadget love and that better suits their needs, but I like the consistency of this, and I like Apple's privacy by design, and just the way that you handle things like set up the user experience things.

One of the things that we love about the experience is you just bring it right next to your iPhone, and then that little connect dialog appears, it's just a very simple and magical experience, kind of how we did it for AirPods as well.

One of the things that I wasn't expecting was to see the words "Bluetooth LE," and "Ultra Wideband" on the actual hardware. Is that part of the disclosure or the thinking around the product, so that if someone just sees one or gets one, they know that it's an active device?

Well, we've got that beautiful, precision edge stainless steel part of it with the Apple logo. And we thought it'd be really great to also call out some of the pretty advanced hardware technologies that are inside the product. And many of these hardware technologies, as Ron details, actually goes a long way in how we protect the privacy for the AirTag product and its users and non-users alike. And so, that's something that we just thought would be a wonderful thing to highlight on the design itself, too.

So, let's get into that maybe because we talked a little bit about the experience for the owners, but obviously the minute a new technology comes out, we're a little bit apprehensive about it. And people might be worried that a tracker could be used to track or that people may instead of using it, they might misuse or abuse it, either accidentally or intentionally even, what sort of thinking or design process do you have in place for that?

Yeah, a whole lot. As you mentioned, we believe in privacy by design. And that's why from day one, we designed AirTags to discourage unwanted tracking, right? And so, every iPhone running iOS 14.5 will have built-in logic to detect an AirTag that's been traveling with you, but without its owner. And it's really key that we only focus on the cases where the owner's not there, because if you're traveling together on a bus, we don't want your iPhone to miss-detect somebody else's AirTag that's potentially tracking you, right? And so, we detect that it's not with the owner, and therefore it's potentially unwanted tracking. And what your iPhone is gonna do actually is to alert you right on the lock screen when you arrive home, and your home location's of course based on your address book or learned from prior travel patterns locally on your iPhone, right? And with the alert, what you can do is go straight into the Find My app and play a sound to actually locate that AirTag physically, right? And then, Define My app even gives you instructions on how to disable the AirTag by taking apart the battery, for example. And this is where the serial number that we have with the AirTag actually comes into play. Every single AirTag has a unique serial number. And that serial number is tied back to the Apple ID that the AirTag is paired with, right? And not only is there a serial number printed on the AirTag itself physically, it's also accessible to any NFC reader, standard NFC reader, right? And so, we think these things together are big deterrents in people using this for unwanted tracking.

And what I love also about the way that you handle rollouts is almost always day one, you talk about the environmental impact, and also the accessibility, and you make sure you have both the visual and the audio cues here.

That is right, Rene. So, if you don't have an NFC reader, for example, or for owners of the iPhone, we have this other mechanism, it's a Spot an AirTag, which is that when the AirTag has been away from the owner for a while, it itself is gonna make a sound to help you spot it when it's being moved.

Yeah, and so that's available to anyone, even if they don't have any device at all, is that it will play that pretty audible sound so that it'll alert you that there's an unattended AirTag nearby, as you said.

So, when you're weighing all of these decisions, how do you go about balancing, we wanna make sure nobody's unintentionally tracked with, oh, I lent my car keys that happened to have an AirTag on them, to my best friend or to a visiting relative, how do you sort of balance those things?

Well, there's a couple of things. So, if you have it shared through Find My Family Sharing, so if you give it to your partner, right, and they're gonna take the car for the weekend, you could elect to disable the alert, so they're not continuing seeing that. Now, if you are someone who say you borrowed your friend's keys and you're not in Family Sharing, you could also elect knowing that it's just that use case that you're aware of, you could elect to not get the alerts for that whole weekend let's say you were borrowing the keys.

Honestly, one of the reasons why I love it when Apple enters markets, because the amount of scrutiny I think you bring to any technology ultimately elevates or forces the entire industry to elevate their game. But are you thinking about things along those lines as well, how just make sure that no one is a walking Bluetooth hotspot or no one else is sort of trying to figure out ways to get into that network?

Yeah, yeah, many things. So for one, for example, as you know, we've opened up the Find My network to third-party products as well, too, right? And then, so many of the privacy and security features we talked about here apply and are required on these third party products as well too. So, the rotating Bluetooth identifiers, the mechanisms to discourage unwanted tracking, they're all required on the third-party products. And especially because we know now with the Find My network, many things that were traditionally not find-able now become find-able, right? So for example a jacket, a suitcase, umbrella, these were things that people never thought would be find-able, now they are. And we wanna make sure that's recognizable by people who borrowed these items unknowingly, right? So, that's why as part of the program, we require that smaller products have the same speaker and accelerometer requirements that AirTag does as well, and also for the larger items, we literally require a back should to be printed on the product itself. So, you can just see that these are find-able items and be aware of that.

And you've probably seen the announcements from Belkin, Chipolo and Van Moof, and it's exciting 'cause it's just the beginning and this is a growing ecosystem. And now, having the same thoughts around privacy and security available to them as well was also a really important part of all this.

All the engineering that went into the security and privacy protections for the Find My network, and some of those, Rene, you've talked about before on your prior podcasts, dissecting our P224 keys and how they're being used to encrypt things from one side to another, and all that, because of those fundamental bedrocks, that's how we're able to open this up to the Find My enabled products for third party as well, too, and all for all of these same feature sets but without compromising security and privacy, and really together raising the bar for all of our users.

For people who are wondering, these just have a battery in them, right? A user accessible battery, it lasts for about a year, and then you can change it.

Yeah, it's got a user-replaceable, coin cell standard battery, it's a 2032, so it can be purchased in many different stores. And the battery lasts over a year with that, and it comes with one in your AirTag. And the nice part about his iPhone will notify you as your battery starts getting low so that you won't be caught off guard at the last minute. So, you will get that proactive notification.

Oh, is there a limit to the amount of AirTags that you can run at once, is that even a thing yet?

Well, it's 16 to the Apple ID account, which I personally think is a lot for me, but we'll hear from our users what they wanna use it with.

And there are just so many things in people's lives in general that they wanna find, right? And then, because to Find My protocol is built on top of standard Bluetooth standard, that means that many of these devices that already have Bluetooth built into it, can get these capability already, which we're super excited about as well.