Apple announced several new products recently, including an AirTag accessory designed to make it easier for users to find their misplaced stuff.
A reader asked a great question about how this could impact the tool industry.
It might be interesting to contrast Apple’s recent announcement of AirTags as a substitute for Milwaukee’s OneKey Tick. Given the greater ubiquity of Apple products, these may be much more relevant to tracking lost/stolen tool boxes/large equipment (where they could be easily hidden from sight).
Milwaukee OneKey is described as being the industry’s largest [tool and equipment] tracking network, with inventory management and location capabilities.
But first, let’s talk a bit about the Apple AirTag.
Basically, the Apple AirTag sends out a Bluetooth signal that’s picked up by iPhone smartphones and similar Apple devices. The Apple device then sends the location of the identified AirTags to their systems, and you receive an update on your device.
In Apple’s words:
Your AirTag sends out a secure Bluetooth signal that can be detected by nearby devices in the Find My network. These devices send the location of your AirTag to iCloud — then you can go to the Find My app and see it on a map.
Users will receive locations with map coordinates, and when you’re close enough, newer iPhone devices with Precision Finding tech will show you the distance and approximate heading to your AirTag.
Milwaukee’s One-Key tool tracking network operates in a similar manner. The difference here is that Apple’s iOS and Find My network is much, much larger.
The size of a tracking network depends on the number of users. How many users have the Milwaukee One-Key app installed to their smartphone or other device, compared to the number of tool users that have iPhones?
The AirTag itself doesn’t look to have any built-in mounting capabilities, and of course Apple already has an entire line of carrying accessories for their AirTags.
For this launch, Apple’s AirTag accessories consist of luggage tags, bag charms, and keychains.
How long until we see mountable accessories, such as the case that houses Milwaukee’s One-Key Tick tracker? I would bet that 3rd party accessory makers and 3D printing hobbyists are already working on different multi-attachment AirTag holders.
Apple’s press and launch materials specifically avoid language to suggest the AirTag can be used to locate stolen items. Instead, it’s for finding “missing” items, or personal belongings that are “separated” from the user.
Would it be possible for users to attach Apple AirTag trackers to their tools or hide them in tool boxes or within equipment to help police locate them if stolen? Absolutely.
Apple’s AirTag also takes advantage of a much larger user base compared to Milwaukee One-Key, even if it’s the largest tool tracking network of its kind.
But, here’s the exciting part.
At the very end of Apple’s press release, they discuss a new Find My Network Accessory Program which will be open to third party companies.
Third-party products and accessories can also add support for finding with the new Find My network accessory program. Through the program, device and product manufacturers can now build finding capabilities directly into their products using the advanced Find My network with uncompromising privacy built in, allowing customers to use the Find My app to locate other important items in their lives.
If I’m interpreting this correctly, it means that a company – such as Milwaukee – could potentially add Apple “Find My” network-compatible tool tracking accessories.
Does this mean there’s the potential for a product like the Milwaukee One-Key Tick to emit a Bluetooth signal that’s compatible with both networks?
At this time, Apple specifically talks about the potential for 3rd party hardware integrations. They say that only the owner of a device has access to its location designer and that communications are end-to-end encrypted, which suggests software integrations or cross-talk might be difficult if not outright barred.
Tool brands are likely to be reluctant when it comes to potentially utilizing or directing users to 3rd party apps, especially ones that are device-dependent. But can all this offer an enhanced user experience in any way?
It will be interesting to see if and how the AirTag is used for tool tracking, and if there’s any way for Milwaukee One-Key – or other brands’ smaller tool tracking networks – to benefit from Apple’s Find My program expansion.
At the very least, AirTag seems like a tool brand-agnostic way to add location capabilities to a whole slew of products, at least if you have an iPhone. Apple has not specified if the AirTag can be tracked or located by other devices such as iPads or Mac products.
Price: $29 each, 4 for $99
AirTag accessories are $13 and up at the Apple Store, with a couple of less expensive keychain options already popping up on Amazon.
Apple says the user-replaceable CR2032 battery should provide over a year’s worth of battery life with everyday use. The AirTag has an IP67 rating and is water-, dust-, and splash-resistant.