Apple AirTags have been ready for years — here’s the proof

Apple AirTag
(Image credit: Future)

Many Apple events came and went without AirTag getting mentioned, despite leaks indicating their existence. Indeed, seven months ago leaker Jon Prosser claimed AirTags were “done and ready."

And yet Apple’s remaining 2020 launches for the likes of M1 Macs, iPhone 12 and AirPods Max didn’t include a peep about the tracker. 

This finally came to an end at Apple's Spring Loaded event, and Apple’s answer to Tile is finally winging its way to customers. And we now have proof that Prosser was correct and Apple has been sitting on AirTags for some time, waiting for the right moment to launch.

On Twitter, YouTuber @ZONEofTECH published photos of the packaging from his AirTags, which revealed two interesting dates. The AirTags box has the year 2020 on it, which matches what Prosser was saying, while the leather keyring has an even earlier year of 2019. 

The latter is about the same time that AirTag rumors first emerged, and MacRumors has also uncovered documents proving that Apple began regulatory testing for the trackers between July and November that year.   

So why the persistent delays? There are two likely answers, though both remain speculation. The first is simple: a 2019 launch would have limited AirTags usability. Because the trackers use ultra-wideband technology, they require compatible handsets to be detectable. While Apple introduced the compatible U1 chip with the iPhone 11, releasing AirTags at the same time would mean that only early adopters of the phone could use them. Releasing them when both the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 have got a decent market share means sales will likely be far higher.

The second possible explanation is more complex, and comes down to the anti-competitive charges Apple was facing at the time. Back in 2020, companies including Tile, were reportedly lobbying Congress to level the playing field over dominance from companies like Apple, Amazon and Google.

It’s perhaps no coincidence, therefore, that Apple opened up its Find My network to third-party accessory makers ahead of AirTags launch, and it may be that Apple simply needed the extra time to make the necessary changes, delaying the original anticipated launch date.

In any case, the AirTags are out now and early impressions are strong. We gave the tracker four stars in our Apple AirTag review, praising both its ease of use and precision, although concerns about AirTags privacy and stalking are a very real concern.  

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.