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9 May 2021

Apple has recently introduced its new AirTag product, a small accessory that enables iPhone users to securely locate and keep track of their valuables. While Apple is not the first to introduce product location trackers, its seamless integration with the iPhone has the potential added benefit of assisting people with vision disabilities to navigate indoors.

In a recent press release, Apple stated that: “We’re excited to bring this incredible new capability to iPhone users with the introduction of AirTag, leveraging the vast Find My network, to help them keep track of and find the important items in their lives,” said Kaiann Drance, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide iPhone Product Marketing.

Designed to be a simple experience, the AirTag works by using the ‘Find my’ feature on the iPhone to locate an object to which the AirTag is nearby or attached.  each AirTag is equipped with the Apple-designed U1 chip using Ultra Wideband technology, which can more accurately determine the distance and direction to a lost AirTag when it is in range. As a user moves, Precision Finding utilises a combination of camera, ARKit, accelerometer, and gyroscope data, to guide them to AirTag using a combination of sound, haptics, and visual feedback.

In line with many of its products, AirTag includes support for the accessibility features built into iOS. Apple created this to work seamlessly with VoiceOver and haptics. The Precision Finding using VoiceOver, can direct users who are blind or have low-vision to the AirTag with directions like “AirTag is 2 metres away on your left.”

The major win of this product in relation to accessibility, is that users receive bimodal sensory input in the form of a beeping sound and haptic buzz as you move closer to your object, with the tactile becoming more prominent as you gain proximity. As such, the AirTags could be used not only to locate objects, but as location beacons that could assist a user in navigating to key areas of a house or building, , creating an ad-hoc indoor navigation system.  Forbes contributor, Steven Aquino state that AirTag is a “testament to Apple’s empathy and sensibility towards building life-changing solutions for people of all abilities.”

Although the AirTag has great accessibility benefits, there are some issues with its initial implementation including lack of support for iPhones older than an iPhone 11 and difficulties in attaching it to some objects.

Further information on AirTag can be found at Apples website.