Discover how Apple AirTags compare to industrial GPS, UWB and Bluetooth trackers in terms of technology, accuracy, and usability.
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How does the Apple AirTag compare to industrial location trackers?

How does the Apple AirTag compare to industrial location trackers?
Samuel Van de Velde
Jun 4, 2024

Introduction

Back in 2021, Apple released the AirTag to the world to easily find a lost wallet, keys or other personal items using the iPhone. Apple was certainly not the first one to bring these type of personal trackers to the market, as you also had similar trackers from Tile, Pebblebee and others. However, they were the first to bring a new innovation to these trackers by leveraging ultra-wideband (UWB) technology. With this wireless technology, it became possible to guide a person to their lost tracker with the greatest precision.

The introduction of the AirTag really made personal trackers mainstream, so much so that businesses are wondering if they could use this to track business or industrial assets. In this post we are comparing the Apple AirTag with industrial trackers such as GPS trackers or indoor trackers that are using the same ultra-wideband or bluetooth technology as the AirTag.

How do AirTags work?

Apple AirTag

To understand the difference with industrial trackers, it is important to understand how the airtags work. The AirTag is a small battery-powered device equipped with 2 wireless radios: bluetooth and ultra-wideband that are used to connect with a neighboring iPhone. The AirTag itself is not able to locate itself. Rather, the location of the neighboring iPhone is used, which, in turn mostly comes from GPS or WiFi signals. Because there are over 1 billion active iPhone users worldwide, there is a good chance that there is always some iPhone nearby which can provide a location to the airtag. Through the Apple Find My network, the location of the airtag is always sent back to the owner of the tag. This location is typically not very accurate, but will allow you to locate the AirTag in the correct area or building.

Once you are in closer range of an AirTag you own, the phone will switch to ultra-wideband to accurately determine the distance and relative angle with respect to your phone. This way, you can still find an AirTag even if it’s under the bed or somewhere in a closet. With the first and current generation of Apple AirTag, the UWB range is 10 meters. The new generation of Apple AirTag, rumoured to be launched in 2025, will have an expected range of 60 meters.

Advantages Disadvantages

1. Small form factor

2. Precision finding close-by with UWB

3. Does not require any infrastructure

4. Anti-stalking functionality

5. Waterproof

1. No real-time location tracking

2. Relies on bluetooth and the nearby Apple device network for positioning. If no apple phones are nearby you don't have an up to date location updates.

3. Cannot detect and notify itself when it is moved (or stolen).

4. Positioning accuracy of the airtag is limited to 10-50m.

5. Limited battery life up to 1 year

6. Only works with iOS. No possibility to connect the data with other systems

For many industrial applications, the fact that the AirTag relies on Apple smartphones to be nearby renders the AirTag completely useless. Furthermore, the data for the AirTag can only be accessed through the Find My app on your phone, there is no way to connect the data to other systems such as an ERP or WMS or to view historical location data for analysis.

AirTag vs GPS trackers

GPS trackers have existed for some time now and can be a good alternative to using AirTag. In fact, some of the recent innovations in GPS asset tracking make this a very viable tracking alternative. With GPS trackers, the trackers uses GPS or GNSS to determine its outdoor location. Most GPS trackers are equipped with Wi-Fi to also provide (rough) indoor localization. For this, the tracker will scan for nearby Wi-Fi access points and use their location to determine the tracker location. Finally, the tracker will use the cellular network to share its location through the cloud.

Advantages Disadvantages

1. Good outdoor positioning accuracy of 10m

2. Battery life up to several years

3. Does not require any infrastructure*

4. Industry grade

1. No real-time location tracking, unless you can power the tracker.

2. Requires cellular network connectivity such as 4G or 5G (usually with monthly subscription).

3. Indoor accuracy is limited to 10-50m

AirTag vs UWB or bluetooth trackers

Industrial UWB trackers actually use the same UWB technology as in the Apple AirTag, however, in a completely different way. These trackers require infrastructure which will determine the tag’s absolute location through triangulation. For UWB, this results in extremely accurate positioning of up to 10cm.

An example of how UWB location tracking can track a forklift throughout a warehouse.

With bluetooth (BLE) trackers the same can be achieve however at a lower accuracy of 5m. Both the UWB and Bluetooth trackers are designed to be used at scale, with the possibility to track thousands of devices in real-time for several years. As compared to the Apple AirTag, the typical UWB range on these industrial tags is around 30 meter.

Advantages Disadvantages

1. Small form factor

2. Accurate indoor positioning accuracy of 10cm (UWB)

3. Real-time location tracking (update every second)

4. Very scalable (10.000s of trackers)

5. Battery life up to 5 years

6. Industry grade

1. No outdoor localization

2. Requires (indoor) infrastructure

Conclusions

Apple AirTags bring innovative personal tracking to the mainstream through their use of ultra-wideband technology and the extensive Apple Find My network. However, their reliance on nearby Apple devices, limited battery life, and lack of integration with other systems make them less suitable for industrial applications.

In contrast, GPS trackers offer robust outdoor positioning and longer battery life, but require cellular connectivity and have limited indoor accuracy. Industrial UWB and Bluetooth trackers provide exceptional indoor positioning accuracy and scalability for tracking thousands of assets in real-time, though they require infrastructure and are primarily suited for indoor use.

Ultimately, while Apple AirTags are ideal for personal use, industrial settings benefit more from dedicated GPS and UWB/Bluetooth trackers due to their specialized capabilities and scalability.

Looking for tracking solutions for your business?

Look no further! Schedule a call with our experts to discuss your use-case, we are happy to help!

Samuel Van de Velde

Written by

Samuel Van de Velde

Samuel Van de Velde

CTO & Co-Founder at Pozyx

Samuel is an electrical engineer with a strong interest in location technology. Skilled in Entrepreneurship, Public Speaking, Product Management, internet of things (IoT), and Machine Learning. After graduating In 2010, he joined the Department of Telecommunications and Digital Information Processing (TELIN) to pursue a Ph.D. degree on the topic of collaborative indoor localisation. In 2015, he founded the spin-off company Pozyx out of that research.