Last week, MacRumors revealed new details about Apple’s upcoming Tile competitor, with internal iOS 13 code suggesting that Apple plans to release small, circular “tags” that can be attached to electronic devices, backpacks, keys, and other personal belongings to keep track of their locations.
Now, noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has thrown his weight behind this rumor. In a Chinese-language research note with TF International Securities today, Kuo said he expects Apple’s tags to feature ultra-wideband or “UWB” technology. As he has said previously, Kuo also expects all three 2019 iPhones to support UWB.
Ultra-wideband is a short-range, low-power radio technology that is able to provide more precise indoor positioning than Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi, suggesting that Apple’s tags will be more accurate at pinpointing the location of lost items than Tile‘s current item trackers, which rely on Bluetooth LE.
The distance between two UWB devices — such as an upcoming iPhone and Apple Tag — can be measured precisely by calculating the time that it takes for a radio wave to pass between the two devices, according to Electronic Design, which notes that UWB is up to 100× more accurate than Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi:
In practice, UWB signals are able to effectively measure distance between two devicesNo with 5- to 10-cm accuracy, compared to roughly 5-m accuracy for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. When implemented in a system of fixed beacons tracking tag locations, the locations can be calculated to within 10-cm accuracy.
It is unclear if Apple’s tags will rely solely on UWB, which would seemingly limit their compatibility to 2019 and newer iPhones, or if they will also incorporate Bluetooth LE for use with older devices.
Last week, MacRumors revealed that Apple’s tags will be closely integrated with the new “Find My” app in iOS 13, which merged the Find My iPhone and Find My Friends apps into one package. Specifically, Apple has been working on an “Items” tab in the app for tracking the location of Apple-tagged items.
iPhone users will receive a notification when they are separated from a tagged item, according to an internal version of the “Find My” app obtained by MacRumors. If necessary, users can then tap a button in the app that will cause Apple’s tag to chime to help them locate the lost item.
“Safe Locations” can be set where the user will not be notified if this item is left in those locations, and users will also be able to share the location of items with friends and family members, based on internal iOS 13 code.
If users are unable to find an item, they can place the attached tag into a “Lost Mode.” Then, if another iPhone user comes across the lost item, the owner will be instantly notified. The stranger will also be presented with the owner’s contact information, possibly via push notification or in the Find My app.
Like the Pixie Tracker, the Find My app will likely incorporate functionality from Apple’s ARKit platform. An internal build of iOS 13 includes an asset for a 3D red balloon that could help a user pinpoint a lost item after scanning a room with their iPhone. There’s also an image of a 2D orange balloon.
“Walk around several feet and move your iPhone up and down until a balloon comes into view,” a string in the internal Find My app bundle reads.
Apple is hosting an event at Steve Jobs Theater next Tuesday, where it is widely expected to unveil new iPhone and Apple Watch models. It certainly seems like development of Apple’s tags has reached an advanced stage, but it is unclear if the product will be introduced at the keynote or later.