Should You Use Apple AirTags to Keep Track of Your Kids?

Should You Use Apple AirTags to Keep Track of Your Kids?
Photo: James D. Morgan, Getty Images

If you haven’t heard, there’s a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers in the US. As millions of kids head back to in-person school — some of them for the first time in more than a year — this is, uh, causing some problems for school districts and parents alike.

In New York City, where I chose to live with my two school-aged children for some inexplicable reason, back-to-school busing has been even more chaotic than normal this year. Though district officials deny a driver shortage, the New York Daily News reports the private transportation companies the city has actually contracted to provide busing are claiming otherwise. Anecdotally, what this has meant for me, as a parent, is standing around on the corner waiting for a bus as long as an hour after its scheduled arrival time. (For my 9-year-old daughter, this has meant lots of whining about how endless and boring the ride is.)

In an attempt to ease my scheduling woes, I decided to pick up a pair of Apple AirTags to stick in my kids’ backpacks (they are both way too young for iPhones of their own). I read up on AirTags beforehand; I know that they don’t have their own GPS trackers but work by talking to the network of Apple Bluetooth enabled devices. But I live in one of the most densely populated cities on the planet. Certainly a school bus passes enough Bluetooth devices in a given commute to provide at least reasonably accurate tracking — enough so that I’d be able to tell when the bus is roughly near the stop — right?

As it turns out, no: In practice, AirTags are unreliable (if not completely useless) for tracking things that are moving quickly. As Forbes recently noted:

Don’t think that if you see your car being stolen off the drive, you’ll be able to see a little dot moving across Apple Maps, plotting the car’s live journey. It’s not a GPS tracker and the updates provided from an AirTag are sporadic.

Boy, I’ll say. Though their performance varies day to day, often the AirTags won’t update for 15 to 20 minutes or more during the kids’ bus ride home, making them functionally incapable of performing the task for which I naively purchased them. The results are a bit better for my son, who rides a bus with more younger kids likely to be met at their stops by phone-toting parents or babysitters, but still not reliable enough to rely on; sometimes my daughter’s location won’t update at all until she’s standing right next to me.

Also, in things to be logged under “I should have done better research beforehand,” AirTags can only be registered to one iCloud account, which means my spouse and I can’t both check on the kids’ location on our respective phones. Also, at least at this point, they can’t be tracked from the web-based Find My tool either.

So how can you accurately track your kids, whether on the bus or at soccer practice? Unfortunately, you’re going to need to spring for something that uses GPS. And if you don’t want to give them a phone, that’s going to cost you — most devices created solely for the purpose come with a monthly subscription fee that’s going to add up quickly; you can expect to pay around $9-27 per month, per device. Perhaps that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind, or even just to avoid standing on the street for 35 minutes every afternoon, hoping in vain that today the bus will come on time.

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