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Apple’s AirTags don’t have a built-in keychain loop, and we have some thoughts

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The pros and cons of Apple’s new tracking tag design

Apple’s new AirTag trackers are finally here after years of rumors. The $29 trackers work with Apple’s Find My network, utilizing both Bluetooth and UWB technology to help owners track anything from their keys to their bags.

But the design of the new trackers is somewhat controversial: unlike most Bluetooth trackers, Apple’s iteration doesn’t include a built-in key ring loop. The subsequent debate has shattered the tranquility of The Verge’s newsroom over whether Apple’s somewhat Spartan design is brilliant or bogus. Well, at least between two of the most genteel Verge staffers, Jon Porter and Chaim Gartenberg.

Artist’s rendering of an AirTag design featuring a keychain hole punch.
Image: Apple

Jon Porter, reporter: Debate me, coward

Chaim Gartenberg, news editor: Gladly!

Jon: Let’s start with a point that we’ll definitely both agree on: it’s a relief to see the AirTags’ battery is user-replaceable. It sounds like such a basic point, but considering Apple’s track record with its AirPods, Magic Mouse, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, MacBook line, Magic Keyboard — wait does anything else Apple makes have replaceable batteries? — it wasn’t a guarantee. Tile’s keychain-focused Mate and Pro trackers have removable batteries, but its Sticker (which has a very similar form factor to the AirTag) doesn’t.

Chaim: I will grant you that easily accessible, user-replaceable batteries are always a good thing. And on a whole, the overall aesthetics of the AirTags are nice, with a two-tone shiny white plastic / chrome back that’s vaguely reminiscent of the old iPods to me. But the overly sleek Apple design highlights the biggest issue I have here: there’s no built-in loop or hole to attach a key ring.

The AirTag is a product that’s designed to track your keys, and yet it offers no way to actually attach itself to those keys out of the box, something that’s practically table stakes from Tile, Chipolo, and virtually every other Bluetooth tracker from the last decade.

Jon: I hear you, but I think Apple’s approach is better. It means it can sell just one version of the AirTag to track whatever item you want, rather than selling different devices whether you want to track your keys, or your bike, or your jacket. Just buy an AirTag and buy whatever accessory you need to attach it. And for what it’s worth, I really like the design of the little holder accessory they’re selling to attach the AirTag to a set of keys.

Chaim: That little keychain accessory costs $35, which is more than an entire AirTag. Even Apple’s cheapest AirTag case, the $30 plastic loop, which doesn’t look like it’ll even be useful for attaching to keys. This is just Apple’s typical accessory tax, forced onto customers because of an intentional choice of aesthetic form over useful function.

And don’t get me started on the Hermès accessories

Jon: Okay fine, I’m not going to argue that the $349 Hermès key ring isn’t incredibly stupid, and it would be nice if the leather key ring actually included an AirTag at that price. The setup is too expensive, period, and hopefully third-party accessory manufacturers will step in to fill the demand for cheap keychain holders.

But more importantly, I think separating the tech bit from the holder bit makes sense for an accessory that’s going to have to withstand so much abuse on a daily basis. Keys can be sharp, and they beat up anything that shares a pocket with them, so I’d prefer it if that thing that gets beaten up is a holder rather than the core piece of technology.

Look at a Tile key fob tracker that’s been used for a couple of years, and it looks grimy as hell. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people end up replacing the whole device when the battery runs out, just so they can get a shiny new tracker. But when your AirTag keychain inevitably starts looking worse for wear, you just replace the holder rather than the tracker itself.

Chaim: These are all valid points, but you’re ignoring the fact that these accessories and protective cases could all exist in addition to including a cutout to directly attach a key ring. There’s already a similar cottage industry of accessories for Tile’s trackers for those who want them, and with the marketing power of Apple behind it, there’s no reason to think that AirTags wouldn’t have eclipsed that level of interest from accessory makers, even if it did have a cutout for a key ring.

It’s not that cases are bad — Apple’s leather option does look great and is almost definitely a more robust option than my hypothetical cutout. But it’d be nice to give customers the choice, instead of just forcing them into an option that requires spending more money right from the start.

Jon: At a certain point, though, you’re running up against physical limitations, and Apple has to pick its battles. I’m already seeing some of our esteemed colleagues in Slack complaining about how thick these trackers are, which I’d wager is because Apple prioritized building in a removable battery. Adding a loop with enough space for a key chain to go through adds yet more bulk. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Chaim: Fair enough. So, Jon, are you buying an AirTag tracker?

Jon: Honestly, I’m going to wait to see how the third-party accessories work out. If I can get a half-decent leather keychain holder for the equivalent of $20 or so, then I think it makes a lot of sense spending $50 all-in with the tracker itself. Yourself?

Chaim: I might buy one to stick in my luggage at some point, but I generally don’t lose my keys enough to need to invest in a tracker for them (famous last words, potentially). Especially not at the $65 price tag that Apple is asking for a full key ring setup.

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