Should You Keep Track of Your Kids With Apple AirTags?

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Photo: James D. Morgan (Getty Images) – I went to Apple for aid when I needed a solution for NYC’s infamously unreliable school buses. There is a countrywide shortage of school bus drivers, in case you haven’t heard. As millions of children return to in-person school for the first time in more than a year, school systems and parents are experiencing some difficulties.

Back-to-school busing has been much more hectic than usual in New York City, where I choose to reside with my two school-aged children for some odd reason. Though district authorities dispute a driver shortage, the New York Daily News claims that the private transportation companies hired by the city to provide bus service allege otherwise. Anecdotally, what this has meant for me as a parent is hanging about on the corner waiting for a bus that may arrive an hour later than expected. (This has resulted in a lot of grumbling from my 9-year-old daughter about how long and dull the journey is.)

I decided to buy up a pair of Apple AirTags to put in my kids’ backpacks in an attempt to alleviate my scheduling difficulties (they are both way too young for iPhones of their own). I did some research on AirTags prior and learned that they don’t have their own GPS trackers and instead rely on a network of Apple Bluetooth enabled devices to communicate. However, I reside in one of the world’s most crowded cities. Surely, throughout a given journey, a school bus passes enough Bluetooth devices to offer at least pretty good tracking—enough so that I could determine when the bus is roughly approaching the stop—right?

No, as it turns out: AirTags are unreliable (if not entirely worthless) for tracking fast-moving objects in practice. As Forbes pointed out recently:

Don’t expect to see a small dot moving across Apple Maps, mapping the car’s live route, if you watch your car being taken off the drive. An AirTag isn’t a GPS tracker, and the updates it sends aren’t always reliable.

I’ll say it’s a boy. Though their performance fluctuates from day to day, the AirTags frequently fail to update for 15 to 20 minutes or more during the kids’ bus trip home, rendering them useless for the job for which I foolishly purchased them. My son’s results are a little better, as he rides a bus with a lot of younger kids who are more likely to be met at their stops by phone-toting parents or babysitters, but they’re still not reliable; my daughter’s location sometimes doesn’t update at all during the day, from the time she leaves for school until she’s standing right next to me in the afternoon.

AirTags can only be registered to one iCloud account, which means my spouse and I can’t both check on the kids’ whereabouts on our phones, which falls under the category of “I should have done greater research prior.” They can’t be traced through the web-based Find My tool either, at least for the time being.

So, whether you’re on the bus or at soccer practice, how can you keep track of your kids? Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay a premium for a GPS-enabled device. And if you don’t want to give them a phone, you’ll have to pay for it—most gadgets designed specifically for this purpose come with a monthly membership charge that rapidly adds up; anticipate to pay approximately $9–$20 per month, per device. Perhaps it’s a little amount to pay for peace of mind, or even to avoid having to stand on the street for 35 minutes every afternoon, hoping in vain that the bus would arrive on time today.