AirTags (3/3). Limitations

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Underlying Apple’s upcoming AirTag product is the powerful concept of the Digital Twin. The concept unlocks many powerful B2B use cases beyond the original one which is retrieving lost items. We have written about this in our two previous posts on the AirTag series which you can find here (Digital Twin concept) and here (Digital Twin use cases).

To conclude our series on AirTags, we would like to point out a few limitations that need to be resolved before the Digital Twin and its use cases come to fruition.   

Tag Performance 

In order to be able to create a digital copy of our physical world, we need to be able to attach a tag to anything that should be part of the Digital Twin. A natural constraint to that is the tag performance. More specifically, we can break down the required performance for the Digital Twin into size, battery life and memory.  

We want the tag to be as small as possible so that it can be attached to anything that should be part of our Digital Twin. The battery life should be as long as possible, if not infinite, since the cost and time spent charging all tags in our Digital Twin otherwise would erode the value proposition. Memory space is critical since tags used in the Digital Twin, similar to Apple’s AirTags, only have Bluetooth or UWB capability and are not connected to a shared network / internet. This means that any interaction data between tags needs to be stored until it can be offloaded into the shared network via a phone.  

In essence, we want to minimize size and maximize battery life and memory space. Of course these aspects come in addition to the basic requirement of being robust.  

There have been some impressive advances in tag technology. For example, Estimote is offering Beacon stickers (static tags) with 6-12 month of battery life. Similarly, Tile, the competing product to Apple’s AirTag, is offering stickers. These are bigger in size than Estimote’s but have a built-in battery that lasts for 3 years. Most promising though is Wiliot’s efforts in creating a battery-free Bluetooth tag. This could be a real game changer in the tag space, driving forward the commercialization of the Digital Twin concept.  

However, currently the perfect tag for the Digital Twin still needs to be developed. We can expect this to take some more time.  

OS Compatibility  

Corporate Digital Twins would need to be compatible across operating systems or at least with the two major ones, iOS and Android. However, given Apple’s walled garden around its ecosystem this is rather unlikely. For example, iPhone users will not be able to use Apple’s “Find My” functionality to locate their handbag that has a non-Apple tag attached to it. Especially in the corporate setting, flexibility across operating systems would be of high importance.  

In-Background Functionality 

Photo by Ben Kolde on Unsplash

At the core of the Digital Twin are phones which act as Bluetooth/UWB scanners and data gateways. They locate objects around them and subsequently upload interaction data to the cloud. This means that the phone should be able to scan and upload data continuously. If a company would develop a Digital Twin product, it would require the app to at least run in the background. Ideally, the app should run with screen-off when it is in the user’s pocket. As the pandemic has shown, Android and especially iOS, are limiting these kinds of capabilities to 3rd parties. This is the main reason why governments abandoned their own contact tracing efforts in favour of Google and Apple’s solution. Keeping the app alive in the background and with screen-off without draining the battery is essential for the Digital Twin.   

These are some of the biggest challenges in need of solutions before we can commercialize the Digital Twin concept. If we have forgotten any or you would like to further discuss this topic, let us know in the comments section on Medium.  


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