Involuntary self-experiment: How Apple’s AirTags fare in urban public transport

involuntary self experiment how apples airtags fare in urban public transport.jpg
involuntary self experiment how apples airtags fare in urban public transport.jpg

A lost key, an AirTag attached to it and the hunt for a bus: A practical test shows whether the “Where is?” network works.


Tuesday afternoon: I stand in the entrance area of ​​my office and feel my clothes – and feel: nothing. The damned key can’t be found in the backpack pocket either. Where is that thing? I have an important video conference right now!


Shortly before, I had gotten off the bus, which was finally on time, and I was looking forward to getting to my place of work stress-free. It occurs to me that the key has a fob with one of Apple’s AirTags on it. I grab my iPhone and launch the Find My app. Lo and behold: the key is in a different place and appears to be moving in the flow of traffic. I must have left that thing on the seat on the bus. A minute later, a notification comes to my cell phone that an item has been left behind: my key.

I briefly consider what to do. I know where the bus is going. Couldn’t I just go there? I leave the building, run to the street and try to get a taxi using the app. But puff cake: The vehicle I ordered is stuck in traffic. Looking to the side, I see that the next bus after mine has just arrived. I run and get in, ask the driver if he can contact the vehicle in front of him on the schedule. But he can’t: Apparently there is no radio link and/or a control center that can be interposed. At least I get the information that the bus with my key will probably take a short break at the final stop. So I go along hoping to arrive on time.

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Meanwhile I activate it “Lost” mode of the AirTag so that it reports regularly with the location. You can also enter a phone number here, which an honest finder with an iPhone will hopefully contact.

While driving, I keep checking the “Where is?” app. The key moves, sometimes it seems inactive for minutes. Then I restart the app and get the current position again. Finally, the AirTag suddenly stops – apparently the bus has reached the final stop and the driver is taking a break. Meanwhile, the bus I’m on is stuck in a traffic light jam. I wonder if I can still do it.

A stop in front of the final stop, where my key is apparently still waiting, I get bored. I get out, thank the driver again for his help and tell him that I will try to wait for the bus at the opposite stop, because I suspect that the vehicle has now finished its break. He thinks that could work. I quickly cross the street. Nothing has happened in the “Where is?” app for five minutes. The key still seems to be at the terminus. Or did someone take him? I feared that all along.

I look at the timetable. The bus is supposed to come in three minutes – and it should be “my” bus. But the AirTag still says it’s somewhere else. There’s the bus. I get on and recognize the bus driver. Ask him if a key was found. He wants to know what the key looks like, as the rules say. I describe it – including the AirTag tag. And indeed: a nice passenger must have found and handed over the good piece. I’m handed the key with a grin after I’ve quickly given my address and my identity card ID – there has to be order. The bus driver and I almost hug. He tells me he has an iPhone. “Then I tracked the AirTag over you,” I say with a grin. I take part in the video conference for the first few minutes from the bus. Conveniently, it goes exactly where I rushed to get here: in the direction of my office.

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Conclusion: As unpleasant as the experience was – the AirTags work great if everything goes well. And there is hardly a better feeling than getting an item you thought lost back intact. But all of this only works as long as you are in an area where there are enough Apple devices to pass on the location report. And even then it sometimes gets on my nerves. “You can only do it in a big city. That would hardly be possible here,” says a colleague who lives more rurally. As far as accuracy goes, he’s probably right – even though iPhones are becoming more and more commonplace, forming the central part of Apple’s Finding Network.