Here's how Apple describes how its "Tags" work in a patent

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Philippe Gloaguen
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A couple of published patents provide clues to the work Apple is doing on how its tracking devices, dubbed "Apple Tag", will work.

As a guide, the "Apple tags" will be similar to the Tile product, which prompted this company to accuse Apple of taking over other companies' successful ideas and kicking them off the market (though Apple hasn't announced them yet).

The Apple patents for "Multi-Interface Transponder Device - Alter Power Modes" and "Multi-Interface Transponder Device - Power Management", filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, detail the basic functionality of a data recording device. with the host device. 

In particular, the patents focus on the operational aspects of a Multi-Interface transponder (Multi-Interface transponder - MIT), including their connectivity, communication with nearby devices and diet, among other features.

In essence, the MIT device is described as a small, portable electronic device with basic processing capabilities, light and motion sensors, radio battery, and power supply. The product can be attached to everyday items such as wallets, keys and ID cards to help locate its location. In short, the tracker can connect with the host or other compatible devices to help locate a lost item. 

According to Apple, existing location solutions have several drawbacks, for example based on proximity communication. Long-range communication technologies are generally expensive and require sophisticated circuitry, as well as consume a lot of power, which is not a good combination for a pager that must be extremely easy to carry.

Apple proposes an updated MIT device that uses Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) and an intelligent power supply to overcome the limitations of current standard technology. Also, the location of the tracker can be updated in the backend from unbound devices, meaning they are not owned or associated with a user account. A similar fix for iOS and Mac devices has been included as a search app update implemented in iOS 13 and macOS Catalina. 

As described in the patent application, the Apple tracker incorporates a SOC (System-On-Chip) processor, a connector for data transfer and charging, power and communication integrated circuits. Other presentations may include lights, speakers, and vibration modules for haptic feedback. Among the integrated communication technologies are UWB, Bluetooth / Bluetooth LE and LP / ULP. (Low power and very low power). Other optional configurations may include protocols such as Wi-Fi and cellular. 

Power management is the key to Apple's solution. Depending on the situation, the tracker can operate in different power modes, from ultra low power to ultra high power. For example, the MIT device can be kept in ultra-low power mode until it moves away from the host device or is somehow triggered by data from internal sensors. You can also receive an alarm from a nearby device, such as an iPhone tracking a lost tracker. 

When switching to high power mode, the pager increases beacon transmission and reception rates of incoming instructions over various radio protocols, including but not limited to UWB. 

It is striking that Apple's request stipulates that in some presentations, the tracker may delay or cancel the switch to high-power mode if it determines that it is in a "safe zone" such as the user's home, work or home. friend. or frequent Location. Likewise, vocalizations can remain in low-power mode if the included sensors detect motion similar to those experienced by the add-on device, suggesting that both elements are with the user. 

Likewise, in the other sense, vocalizations can quickly go from low power to high power if they determine - or are warned - that they are entering the "danger zone." For example, the device can in some cases increase energy consumption when the train is coming to a stop, when the user exits the car or the plane stops, situations in which the user can actively search for a forgotten item.

If the MIT device determines that it has been lost, either due to a lack of communication with the host device or due to location information being transmitted via the cloud account from unpaired devices, it will enter “lost mode”. During this time, the tracker alters its power consumption to increase the chances of being found. In some models, beacons are broadcast more frequently during the day - as indicated by the light sensor - when the tracker is most likely to be detected by a nearby device. Likewise, the transmission frequency and power can increase over time.

Apple specifies that the tracker adjusts broadcast decisions based on the last time it was in contact with the paired device. When that period is short, perhaps hours, transmit frequencies and power can be aggressively increased, while longer periods can result in low transmission patterns that allow for months of battery life. 

An MIT locator in some formats may incorporate motion sensors that determine if it has been found, at which point it will cease transmitting and enter ultra-low power mode. Alternatively, a paired device may instruct the locator to activate a high-power interface such as UWB to identify its location. 

Once discovered, the paired device can display a location interface that takes the form of an augmented reality environment or map. This interface may include location markers such as arrows, dots, circles, and on-screen graphics that vary in size, color, shape, and intensity to help locate the device.

It has been rumored for months that Apple is planning to introduce the product this year. The code related to the operation and management of the locators (Apple tags) was discovered in an iOS version more than a year ago, before the launch of iOS 13. It is now speculated that they will be presented at the launch event of iPhone 12 this fall . 

The patent applications for the "Apple Tags" were filed in February 2019 and cite as authors James H. Foster, Marlene Nilsen and Paul G. Puskarich.

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