Rumored for years, the Apple AirTags finally came to fruition during Apple’s “Spring Loaded” event in April. The button-sized accessory is part of the Find My system on Apple devices and is helping users locate phones, keys, bags, and the TV remote that seems to end up in the depths of the couch that would have Lewis and Clark blushing. And while we at Gravity Jack are guilty of misplacing our fair share of mice (not that kind) and having other accessories floating around the office, we are excited about the AirTags for a completely different reason — augmented reality.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we want to be clear that Apple has not formally announced any plans to leverage the AirTags with AR technology, but that won’t stop us from considering the possibilities! With that PSA out of the way, the main advantage we see that AirTags could bring to any experience is the ability to find specific AR experiences with a high degree of accuracy. Incorporating AirTags would solve a big hurdle the AR community is actively trying to overcome, which is identifying a user’s location and then accurately placing the digital content within their environment. Don’t get us wrong, these experiences are possible and happening (we’ve done them!), but not with the small size of beacon and accuracy that AirTags would bring to the table thanks to their Ultra Wide Band U1 chip.
LOCATION-BASED AUGMENTED REALITY
As it stands now, location-based AR experiences are reliant on Wi-Fi and/or a device’s GPS capabilities. If you are looking to move an AR experience indoors, the addition of Bluetooth beacons will likely be required. This is due to unreliable cell service and the fact that GPS, unfortunately, doesn’t provide the granular level distance recognition required for indoor AR experiences. While beacons will get the job done indoors, the high pricing and capability variances amongst the different brands currently on the market can sometimes be a deterrent.
AIRTAGS & AR
When it comes to pairing augmented reality alongside the AirTags, one of the exciting features is the on-screen directions and distances (a clear advantage they have over their competitors in Tile) to the missing object they provide users. How does this translate to AR? Let’s take a theme park for example. If Universal Studios wanted to create a scavenger hunt experience for their customers where they need to find different Jurassic Park dinosaurs, they could place a series of AirTags around the facility that would help park visitors unlock the AR experiences.
As a user moves their phone around the environment, a compass or map could seamlessly be integrated into the AR scene with indicators showing their proximity to finding a particular dinosaur. The AirTags could even provide different AR experiences before the user discovers the dinosaur based on the distance they are from the AirTag. Maybe as the user is 50 ft away, the screen begins to shake and as they get 25 ft away, they pan their phone around only to find that a giant T-Rex has appeared in the AR scene — eat your heart out Steven Spielberg!
If Apple does indeed move forward with the concept of enhancing AR experiences through AirTags, we are confident they will prove to be game-changers in providing low energy, high accuracy augmented reality experiences for an affordable price. This functionality would especially be a nice compliment to Apple’s ARKit and LiDAR technologies, which are known for their spatial awareness and content placement within a given space.
It’s important to keep in mind that the above experience would require Apple to open their AirTag SDK to developers like us. However, Apple could just as easily incorporate AR into their Find My system to bring a more simple use case of AR to the users who are simply trying to find their lost items. The Find My system could access the phone or tablet’s camera and overlay 2D distances and directions into the camera’s view. It could go as far as using a heat map to show users where their items are.
We also would like to apologize to any of our Android friends who got this far hoping that AirTags might be compatible with their devices — at this moment (outside of emergency mode), they are not. For anyone interested, AirTags can be purchased individually for $29 or in a group of 4 for $99.
In the end, the AirTags could just be another accessory in Apple’s toolbox. However, through the inclusion of ARKit and AR apps on all new phones and tablets being made, Apple is making it clear that augmented reality is the future and isn’t going anywhere. Knowing this information ultimately gives us hope that there is a bigger plan in place for AirTags. Or at least we sure hope so.