AirTag Follow-Up

They’re not an anti-theft device

Seeing the AirTag introduction on the 20th was pretty interesting. Apple didn’t just pitch it as a lost item tracker, they showed off how it works with ultra-wide-band-capable iPhones to provide their “precision tracking” that lets you find items with a virtual compass that is pointing to where the AirTag is, and talked a lot on how it won’t be able to be used for nefarious purposes. One thing they didn’t talk about was using the AirTag as an anti-theft device because it pretty clearly isn’t one if you see any of the marketing around it. The AirTag is designed to be visible, not hidden, and isn’t permanently attached to the item you don’t want to lose. There’s nothing preventing someone from taking off the AirTag and chucking it in the trash or just taking the battery out.

Now, with reviews and first impressions popping up along with support questions about it on public forums, it’s clear that not everyone understands that the AirTag isn’t an anti-theft device. I don’t blame anyone for getting confused about the purpose, but you’ll see people asking about using an AirTag to track vehicles. There was a trade-off and whatever team at Apple designed this product decided that it was about lost items and not stolen items, and especially that the AirTag is not going to help people abuse other people which also made it impossible to work for an anti-theft scenario.

If you lose an item with an AirTag on it, keys or a backpack or a purse (bizarrely, the AirTag is too thick to fit comfortably inside of most wallets), and someone who isn’t a thief finds the AirTag, they might be able to get everything back to you.

Unfortunately, I’m also not entirely certain that the AirTags will work well for their intended purpose of even helping to find lost items. Lets talk about a few scenarios.

  • If an Android or iPhone user (with NFC in their device, which is probably most of them at this point) holds it up to the back of their phone, the NFC antenna inside the AirTag will give that user the option to go to a website, an Apple site, and there they will see any short message and phone number you leave for someone who finds your AirTag (and whatever it is attached to) but only if the AirTag is in lost mode.
  • If a thief finds the item the AirTag is attached to they can take out the battery in the AirTag, it is a very easy process and the battery is a standard CR2032. It’s also trivially easy to just remove the AirTag and throw it in the trash and take the rest, it won’t do anything to prevent that. The AirTag will also beep after some time of you not being near it. That beeping is there so that the AirTag can’t be used to track someone who doesn’t want to be tracked by the owner of the AirTag.
  • If someone who finds the lost item doesn’t know what an AirTag is, and doesn’t have an iPhone, it isn’t very likely you’ll get your item back. There’s nothing physically on the outside of the AirTag that makes it clear exactly what it is, or identifies you as the owner of the AirTag, or has your contact information. That’s a good thing in the event that you don’t want the AirTag linked to you in the case of your civil rights being violated. It’s a bad thing for you getting your AirTag and the lost item back. Nothing on it says “hold it up to a device with NFC to get information” though when it eventually starts beeping someone might be curious enough to read the tiny lettering on the back that identifies the device as an AirTag and look up what that means. You can still put a luggage tag on something if you want that backup way for someone to help you, but I think a lot of people won’t expect to need both the AirTag and other identification.
  • If you lose the item with the AirTag attached and are near enough to find it again before someone else gets it, you can definitely do that a little bit easier using the “Find My” network that uses Bluetooth Low-Energy to enable almost any modern Apple device to (supposedly privately and anonymously) automatically help locate your lost item and AirTag. If you leave something at a restaurant or a park that means there is a chance it’ll continue to update its location in the Find My app when you get home and realize it’s missing as long as someone else with an Apple device is near it. Once you’re within a certain range for the UWB radio to take over you can enter the precision tracking mode and have a very good shot at locating it. You can also make the AirTag beep when you’re within Bluetooth range of it which helps you find it and prove that the lost item is yours.

I appreciate that the AirTag was set up to prevent it from being used by abusive people, and even if there was an anti-theft purpose for the AirTag it would be a mistake for Apple to encourage that usage when it is clear that law enforcement values property over life. The AirTag is also Apple’s cheapest device at $30 for one or $100 for four. That’s about the same price as similar devices from Tile and Chipolo but of course you can set up and use a Tile or Chipolo device with either any kind of smart phone.

The biggest downside to the Tile devices these days is that they charge a subscription for features like letting your friends help you find your stuff. Chipolo mercifully doesn’t do that, but neither of them will have the network effect for finding things like Apple will. In comparison to those companies it is also much more likely that they would be acquired by another company and give that other company your private location data (assuming they’re not selling that data already.)

Everything Announced at Apple’s 4/20 2021 Infomercial

New iPad Pros, purple iPhone 12, iMac, AirTags, Apple TV 4K

Apple Card Family

Tim Cook opened up the infomercial by announcing changes to their credit card, to let spouses and partners share and merge credit lines so that everyone gets the benefit of improved credit. That is an improvement to the shitty credit situation that hounds everyone, but it’d be better to just destroy the credit system entirely which I’m sure the bank (Goldman Sachs) behind the Apple Card would not appreciate. Tim Cook equated this to financial equity which is a really ridiculous thing to hear from a company that does everything it can to bust internal attempts at unionization. There will also be a way to share access to the credit card to anyone in a family over 13 with optional limits. The new feature is called Apple Card Family. Previously it wasn’t possible to share access to their credit card at all.

Podcasts

The Podcasts app is getting a big update, and as many people have suspected, subscriptions because Apple has to have their cut of everything. According to the terms for podcasters Apple gets 30% of your subscription revenue the first year and then 15% in the second. There’s also a $20 fee for podcasters who want to sign up for the program. Destroying the open podcasting ecosystem through subscriptions is something lots of other businesses have been attempting, so why not Apple? 

Purple iPhone 12

You can now get the iPhone 12 in purple. The ad they showed for the purple iPhone 12 includes the tag line “Mmmmm, purple” and the candyman song from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. You can pre-order it on Friday and it comes out on the 30th if you’re into purple and don’t want to wait for the iPhone 13 this fall. I don’t really care for the shade they picked here.

AirTags

Carolyn Wolfman-Estrada has a cool name, and is the engineering program manager for iPhone Systems. Apple recently announced third-party partners for the Find My app that they claim lets your devices help find other people’s things even when they are offline without violating anyone’s privacy or revealing those locations to Apple. Apple’s AirTag lost item locating devices have been rumored for what seems like years now, and Wolfman-Estrada said they are designed to track items and not people so it seems like Apple might have thought through the bad use cases for these things. You’re supposed to be able to locate unwanted airtags if they’re on your stuff, but I can’t imagine that is possible if you’re not using an iPhone. The AirTags are water and dust resistant, personalizable round discs with a user-replaceable battery. Apple devices that support ultra-wide band can find them more precisely. They’re $30 for an AirTag or four for $100. Like the purple iPhone 12, AirTag pre-orders are up on Friday and they should be generally available on April 30th.

Apple TV 4K (2021)

The last Apple TV box was also the Apple TV 4K, so now this must be the Apple TV 4K (2021). Cindy Lin introduced the updated box. It has a newer A12 processor from 2018 instead of the A10X Fusion that was in the 2017 Apple TV 4K. They have not changed up the branding at all to stop confusion with the Apple TV+ subscription video service. The A12 is pretty old at this point, so it probably won’t be fantastic at newer games especially at high resolutions. The newer Apple TV 4K does get high frame rate support, which is nice. There is also a color balance feature so your iPhone can help calibrate the box’s output to improve accuracy, but it isn’t a guided system for changing the TV’s settings for better output in general, so those benefits will only apply to the Apple TV 4K box.

Maybe the best news for the Apple TV 4K (2021) is that there is a new remote. It looks like this:

Siri remote 4k 2k21

There’s a Siri button on the right side where the presenter’s thumb is. The pad has jog wheel functionality on the outside ring. The remote is supposed to be able to control your TV’s power, volume, and mute functionality.

The Apple TV 4K (2021) is $180 for the 32GB model and $200 for the 64GB version. Competing devices are under $50. None of this makes any sense when some of those competing devices also have Apple TV+ apps and support AirPlay. Pre-orders go up on the 30th of April, general availability is “the second half of May.” The remote will also be available separately for $60. The old Apple TV 4K is still available but with the new remote for $150.

iMac 2021 gets the M1 and a new design

IMac

Colleen Novielli introduced the new iMac in a bunch of colors. It’s the first redesign in years. Novielli boasted that switching to the M1 let them reduce the size of the iMac by “…over 50 percent.” Unfortunately the only size of the monitor is 24 inches. Novielli says the new components let them fit that size of display in a design that is “..only slightly larger than the 21 and a half inch iMac.” The 24 inch display has a 4480×2520 resolution that Apple calls 4.5K Retina. The display also has the color balancing based on lighting conditions that Apple calls True Tone. The FaceTime HD camera on the top of the new iMac is 1080p. As was last year’s 27” iMac but Apple said this one “…doubles the resolution.” so I guess they’re talking about the 21” model. There’s supposed to be better processing of the camera through the M1. The microphone is supposed to be an improved three microphone array. Apple says these are the best microphone and camera “…ever in a Mac.” The speakers are supposed to be improved for the “Best sound system ever in a Mac.” Novielli said the M1 processor makes the 24” iMac up to 80% faster than previous 21.5” iMac models.

There are “Up to 4 USB-C ports” on the back, two of which support Thunderbolt 3. The power adaptor attaches to the back of the iMac magnetically, but not through USB-C. The iMac’s ethernet port is oddly on the back of the power adapter. There are color-matched keyboard options, as well as another keyboard that includes the biometric security feature, Touch ID. This is the first time Apple has ever had wireless transmission of biometric data. The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID is also available in an extended version that includes a number pad and properly spaced out arrow keys (the ones on the other two models of keyboard are bunched together with an odd layout).

Big keyboard

The Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad are also color-matched but get no other updates.

The base iMac 24” is $1300 and has 8 GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD which is criminally small and it only has 4 color options and two Thunderbolt 3 ports. Another version is $1500 and includes one more core for the GPU (7, versus 8), two additional USB 3 ports, the squished layout 60% keyboard with Touch ID, seven color options instead of four, and ethernet on the power brick. Pre-orders go up on the 30th. The 24” iMacs also won’t be more generally available until the second half of May. The old intel iMac is still available and still has a spinning disk fusion drive option, and a non-Retina display.

iPad Pro 2021 also gets an M1

The iPad Pro is getting the M1 which makes it incredibly confusing what the M in M1 stands for. Apple also said that these are “console quality graphics”:

Console quality graphics

The quality looks somewhere in-between the Nintendo 3DS and Switch. I don’t really think that graphics are the most important part of gaming, but it is incredibly ridiculous to pretend that Devil May Cry gameplay looks amazing. My screenshot from the video doesn’t do a good job of representing the gameplay, but if you watch the video it isn’t some fantastic revolution in game graphics.

Storage access is supposed to be twice as fast, and there is a new 2TB storage option. The iPad Pro gets Thunderbolt and USB 4 support through the USB-C port. Apple boasted about the new iPad Pro working with their Pro Display XDR at the full 6K resolution using third-party docks. The new iPad Pro supports 5G, which makes it more ridiculous that the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air don’t have a 5G option. The front-facing camera on the 2021 iPad Pro has been updated with a new feature called Center Stage that keeps people centered in the camera view for FaceTime calls. They didn’t say this during the infomercial, but third-parties can access that functionality as well. Apple also demonstrated augmented reality video creation using their Clips app so you can add AR effects to videos.

The 2021 iPad Pro 12.9” also gets a Liquid Retina XDR display that uses the new Mini LED technology that makes the display brighter. The 11” iPad Pro doesn’t get the same boost.

There is a new white color option for both the iPad Pro and the Magic Keyboard for iPad. I returned the Magic Keyboard for iPad (see the review here) after I realized it will disintigrate slowly and then rapidly due to me not living inside of a void with perfectly clean living conditions. Pre-orders go up on the 30th and it’ll ship in the second half of May. The price supposedly is unchanged, or at least the basic price is for the 11” version is still $800. 

I can understand why people might still want a larger iPad Pro option. 12.9” is still the biggest you can get today and it isn’t clear why you can’t get a large-screened iPad Air or iPad Cheap. There are plenty of people who would pay more for a larger screen but who don’t need the better screen technology or faster processor and just need the size of a 12.9” or bigger iPad to get things done.

Overall

The products in this infomercial are fine with the exception of the rent-seeking podcasts app update and whatever is going on with the Apple TV 4K. I’d buy one, but I’m also deeply invested in technology and can’t imagine how Apple would convince someone to buy an Apple TV 4K at $180 over a $35 Roku or another competitor. The biggest reason I’m interested in an Apple TV 4K versus the cheaper streaming devices or the stuff built into a TV is that Apple’s device won’t spy on your viewing habits but Apple’s presenters didn’t even talk about that, presumably because they have relationships with the companies that sell those devices and TVs. The other reasons are Apple Arcade, and their Fitness+ subscription service but you also need an Apple Watch and the Watch can’t really work without an iPhone.

It stinks that the 24” iMac isn’t available in a larger size like 27” and it also isn’t great that they start at 256GB of storage. That’s fine for a cash register, but it isn’t great for people using them to play and work.

The M1 processors are supposed to be incredibly faster than the intel processors they are replacing, and in the case of the iPad Pro, even faster than the A12Z processors introduced last year. Both in terms of generalized processing and in terms of integrated graphics processing. The question now will be what happens when it comes time for bigger Macs like the 27” iMac, MacBook Pro 16”, and the biggest of them all, the Mac Pro. Apple said last year that this would be a two year transition for their product lineup. This gives businesses who use Macs daily time to transition their computers and technology stacks to support the new ARM-instruction-based Apple Silicon. Those more powerful intel Macs have depended upon third-party graphics accelerators from sometimes nvidia, and after nvidia’s relationship with Apple soured, AMD. I am very curious to see what happens with either Apple using their in-house revisions to the M1 to push it further, or to partner with a third-party like AMD and bring their technology as an add-on to the M-series of processors.

Beyond integrated versus discrete graphics, the M1 is currently also limited to 16GB of RAM. More than the iPad line has ever seen before, but the big boy Macs that will be replaced in the next year all have way higher capacity memory options. The 27” iMac currently goes up to 128 GB and the Mac Pro goes up to a whopping 1.5 TB! How Apple handles both of these graphics and memory issues will be interesting.

Apple workers need to be able to unionize if they want better conditions and decision making capabilities within the company. I’d love to see to what percentage of climate change is due to Apple and their products and services versus the constant claims of environmental quality during each section. Being “carbon neutral” and using recycled materials in their products is good, but it is most likely meaningless when climate change is killing people anyway and everything they do in creating and transporting these products is adding to that.

Mercifully, Apple hasn’t embraced cryptocurrency bullshit in any way. No NFTs or other blockchain grifts like that were mentioned during this presentation. They are often late to the game, so there is of course still time for Apple to introduce AppleCoin (yucko) or add Bitcoin support to the Apple Wallet. Bitcoin support would be even worse, because at least AppleCoin would go away in a few years when investors stop caring about it. In reality what we need is a complete and total ban on blockchain technologies in every country. India is ahead of the game here and is supposedly banning it which is the best news of the year.

Overdue for an update are the iPad Mini, which is currently at 765 days since the last update, and of course that 16” MacBook Pro and other high-end Macs like the 27” iMac that are still only available with intel processors.

The M0ii0 + KaWaii PCB kit

A tiny version of an ancient Apple keyboard

This is the M0ii0 + KaWaii PCB mechanical keyboard by Yohe, it looks like it is about $266 USD in beige, blue gray, or dark blue, but it is only currently available through the booth.pm webstore in Japan during this group buy. The keyboard layout looks like it would be a real challenge to get used to. If you’re up to the challenge, check it out at this link and there is an optional parts kit here that appears to just be an extra PCB and plate so you can have an extra if something goes wrong with the original. The group buy is open until April 25th.

The layout of the M0ii0 + KaWaii is based off of the original Apple M0110 from 1984 which had a few more keys. I absolutely love that layout and shrinking it down to make it extra small just makes it cooler, even if it is more challenging.

Apple Announced a New Infomercial for 4/20

It’s the weed number.

Apple, has an event on the 20th at 10AM Pacific time with the subject line “Spring loaded.” Surprisingly, the event was leaked by Siri the night before it was announced.

The biggest rumor has been for new iPad Pros and I’ve even seen the idea that they might be getting a version of Xcode this year. Shipping code for the tablet that was developed on it may be a real maturity step for this now eleven year old platform after it got mouse and keyboard support last year.

Apple’s WWDC 2021 Announced for June 7th

Every year Apple has their World Wide Developer Conference and due to the current pandemic situation this year’s will again be solely online. Starting June 7th and running through June 11th, you can find out more and see Apple’s animated Memoji tribute to Phil Schiller’s M1 Mac opening here. Typically we hear about upcoming features for their operating systems and sometimes new hardware is announced.