Eli5 how does apple airtag works?


Process behind accurately locate gps

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Process behind the engineering of all other devices? Either you need to clarify or you’re expecting a 19-part book series to be written about your question.

Apple made a low-powered network that lets all Apple devices talk to each other when they’re in close proximity. It doesn’t compromise anyone’s data or anything, it’s just devices acknowledging other devices nearby and exchanging basic identifiers and GPS coordinates.

So an AirTag can report its location to any other Apple device that comes into range which then relays that information to the Apple servers where it can be viewed by the owner.

That’s why they can go so long with a small battery and also be so accurate without a large antenna or anything like that.

An airtag doesn’t know its exact location. However it is in contact with other apple phones which do have their own location available. So if it’s within range of a phone, you can report the location as being that of the phone, draw a circle around it showing the communication radius, and call it good.

Thus the airtag can give you an idea of where it’s located, based on the idea that the phone that last saw it knows said phone’s location and that’s close enough.

Air tags don’t have a GPS of their own. Instead, iPhones (including foreign iPhones that are not yours) are programmed to detect the presence of any AirTag (including ones that aren’t your own). When they detect one, the phone uses its location data and transmits an anonymous “AirTag encounter” report to apple. There are enough random iPhones in the world to make this actually a usable strategy.

That’s the only way an airtags battery will last more than 5 seconds.

Theoretically if an AirTag never encounters any other phone it can’t be located.

Also, this is how traffic reports are managed as well. iPhones constantly make anonymous reports to apple on many things. If there are a lot of slow moving iPhones on one road, iPhones report this… then Apple Maps knows to color it red for busy. All iPhones are constantly reporting lots of stuff every single day.

All of it is anonymous though, apple makes a big stink to ensure it’s anonymous.

Android does the exact same thing so it’s not an apple thing.

Imagine you’re at the local dog park and let your dog off the leash. Your dog is running about and out of sight for you.

But all the other people in the park know your dog, and raise a hand when your fluffy boy is near them.

So as long as there are other dog owners there, you can find out where your dog is. But if your dog run somewhere without other people, there is no one there to tell you.

The airtag is like your dog. You can’t see it when it runs about, but other iPhones can see it and will «raise a hand» when they see it nearby. If there are no iPhones in the area, you can’t see the Airtag location.

The iPhones share this data completely anonymously, so you don’t know what «dog owner» saw your Airtag, only that it’s near them.