Two AirTags patent applications have been published today, describing an extremely wide array of potential applications, from locating the nearest defibrillator to monitoring our posture – and even playing avatar-based games.
Patents are often worded in the broadest possible terms, so there’s, of course, no way to know which of these ideas Apple might pursue, but there are certainly some interesting concepts in the mix …
Patently Apple refers to these particularly broad patents as ‘master patents.’
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published what I dub as master patent applications from Apple regarding their future AirTags product […] A master patent is when Apple reveals a grand overview of a coming product line.
The core functionality of AirTags is, of course, to help track and locate valuables, such as wallets, keys, headphones, cameras, luggage, and so on. The latest report suggested that Apple is planning to launch them ‘soon’ in two different sizes.
A larger and smaller version of AirTags would make sense. You’d need a small tag to fit easily into a wallet for example, and would want a small one for things like key-rings. But a small tag means limited battery-life, so a larger tag which requires less frequent charging would be ideal for larger items like camera bags and luggage.
Both patent applications have innocuous-sounding names that may be designed to make them sound uninteresting, and thus attract less media attention.
While we tend to think of mobile devices like iPhones and iPads being most useful to locate tags, the proposed patents do make the point that fixed devices like desktop Macs and HomePods can also play a part. If you’ve forgotten where you’ve put something at home, for example, all your home devices can help triangulate the position of a tag. Similarly, if you suddenly realize you don’t have something – like your headphones – home-based devices can provide reassurance by letting you know they are safely at home.
For attaching to bags, the illustrations show a luggage-tag style holder into which an AirTag can be inserted. This would make for more convenient charging than having to remove the whole thing.
Many other ways of attaching AirTags are shown.
One illustration suggests we might use AirTags to locate people as well as possessions. It shows a bracelet-style tag which could perhaps be used for children too young to have an Apple Watch or iPhone.
One interesting idea is to fit AirTags to emergency equipment, like defibrillators and fire extinguishers. This would make it possible for an iPhone or Apple Watch to direct you to the nearest one when it is needed.
But Apple gets even more imaginative, suggesting that the extremely precise positioning system enabled by Ultra Wide-Band radio could be coupled with things like accelerometers to allow AirTags to detect when you are slumping, helping you correct your posture. I tested a similar device last year.
Another application shows multiple tags attached to a person being used to control their avatar’s positions, gestures, and movement in a game.
Yet another effectively describes using tags as iBeacons to prompt popup messages on an iPhone when someone comes within range.
As I say, the AirTags patent applications are incredibly broad, so it’s more unlikely than usual than Apple would pursue all of these possible directions – but there’s plenty to think about here.
Which ideas do you find most interesting, and which do you think Apple is likely to pursue? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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