Can Apple’s AirTags Discover Misplaced Pets?

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Today we hear from Kaitlyn Wells, an employee at Wirecutter, a product recommendation site for the New York Times.

No dog or cat owner wants to experience the panic that sets in when a pet disappears. Should your best friend get lost, Global Positioning System (GPS) animal trackers that follow your pet in real time can help you reunite, but the devices can be expensive (around $ 200 on average), and some also require an expensive annual subscription. When Apple announced its AirTag tracking devices in April, you might have wondered what I did: would the $ 29 coin device work as a pet tracker?

How is the AirTag different from a Bluetooth or GPS animal tracker?

Pet GPS trackers use satellite signals and cellular data to broadcast your pet’s location to your phone, while Bluetooth-only trackers only report their location when they’re within your phone’s Bluetooth range – usually within 9-30 Meters – or if someone else is walking on the same tracker ecosystem randomly wanders by.

The AirTag uses both Bluetooth and a more precise location technology called Ultrawideband (UWB) to pinpoint the location of the tracker. Like a souped-up version of Bluetooth, UWB will point you in the direction of your AirTag with compass-like accuracy when using an iPhone near the missing AirTag. If you’re further away, you can find Apple’s app network and other iPhone users’ bluetooth instead.

That difference – the near ubiquity of Apple devices wherever you are, helping you keep track of your AirTag – makes Apple’s tracker far more useful than a Bluetooth tracker like the Tile Mate, which operated in a much smaller pool of users will.

However, both AirTags and Bluetooth trackers rely on other devices, while GPS trackers use the power of satellites.

Does Apple Approve the Use of AirTag for Pet Tracking?

Technically no. While it’s small enough to attach to a dog’s collar with Apple’s own key rings or loops (my colleague Brian X. Chen got the hack working), Apple emphasized that the AirTag was designed for item-finding, not from humans or pets. Still, the company has a patent on its UWB technology and cites detachable tags attached to a pet collar or children’s t-shirt as possible application scenarios in the filing.

Don’t be shocked if Apple launches pet-friendly trackers in the future, but for now the AirTag is considered off-label as a pet tracker.

Is there a reason you wouldn’t want to use AirTags on pets?

The AirTag is more limited than dedicated GPS animal trackers. Currently, the Find My app does not notify you immediately if you are disconnected from an AirTag. However, this feature will be added in iOS 15. GPS animal tracking devices do this when your pet leaves a certain area.

AirTags also can’t be attached to a pet’s collar on their own, so you’ll need to purchase an Apple AirTag Loop (which costs as much as the AirTag itself) or a cheaper third-party holder.

Other pet GPS trackers that Wirecutter likes

We’ve tested over a dozen pet trackers over the years, and one always leads the way: the Whistle Go Explore. It costs four times as much as the AirTag, but it will instantly tell you when your pet escapes home, is more accurate than any other GPS tracker we’ve tested, and works with both Apple and Android phones.

But like most of the pet trackers we’ve tested, GPS accuracy can be tricky when cellular service is spotty and you pay a $ 100 annual subscription to keep using it. The battery only lasts about three days in Lost Pet mode, compared to the AirTag’s estimated month-long battery life in this mode.

If you’re a budget-conscious Apple user, the AirTag is more accurate than a traditional Bluetooth tracker, but it’s not as responsive as a GPS animal tracker.

The AirTag is way better than nothing, but if you are ready to spend a little more I would recommend the Whistle Go Explore as it is still the most reliable, accurate, and fastest way to alert you when your pet is missing.

Whichever device you choose, make sure your pets are microchipped and that their ID tags are correct. The more opportunities you have to find your lost pet, the better.

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