April 21, 2021

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Apple gets ready to launch its Find My ecosystem (updated)

While we’re still waiting for Apple to introduce its own take on Tile, the company is opening its Find My service to businesses joining its MFi scheme, enabling manufacturers to build location sensing into devices out of the box.

Update: Since publishing this, Apple has made the following announcement. Additional information will be woven in below.

“Apple today introduced the updated Find My app, allowing third-party products to use the private and secure finding capabilities of Apple’s Find My network, which comprises hundreds of millions of Apple devices.”

Now it’s out there

“For more than a decade, our customers have relied on Find My to locate their missing or stolen Apple devices, all while protecting their privacy,” said Bob Borchers, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing.

“Now we’re bringing the powerful finding capabilities of Find My, one of our most popular services, to more people with the Find My network accessory program. We’re thrilled to see how Belkin, Chipolo, and VanMoof are utilizing this technology, and can’t wait to see what other partners create.”

To support this, Apple has published a new app called Find My Certification Asst. Compatible with devices running iOS 14.3 or later and iPadOS 14.3 or later, the app lets accessory makers check that their devices are correctly configured for use with Apple’s Find My network.

“For use by MFi Licensees only. Use the Find My Certification Assistant to test discovery, connection, and other key requirements for accessories you develop that incorporate Find My network technology,” Apple states.

“The Find My network is a crowdsourced network of hundreds of millions of Apple devices that can help users locate a missing iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and soon, third-party Find My network-enabled accessories, using the Find My app,” Apple says.

Apple announced that it would open FindMy up to third-party devices at WWDC 2020.

The decision was thought to be in response to pressure from regulators in the U.S. and Europe who had been asking if Apple was giving itself an advantage by introducing a product that competed with Tile and other lost item tagging systems.

Belkin announced its first product with Find My support at CES 2021. The SoundForm Freedom True Wireless earbuds are wireless, Qi-compatible earbuds, and were originally expected in March or April.

VanMoof’s latest S3 and X3 e-bikes, Belkin’s SOUNDFORM Freedom True Wireless Earbuds, and the Chipolo ONE Spot item finder make up the first group of innovative third-party accessories that work with Find My.

Find My… AirTags?

The tool debuts as speculation once again suggests that Apple’s long-awaited, possibly mythical AirTags may still not be ready for market.

While Apple has never said anything about these things, it’s very difficult to avoid feeling as if they have been delayed, given that rumors that it intended to introduce them have been circulating for almost two years. We recently heard that they’ll charge wirelessly, cost $39, and measure 32 x 32 x 6mm — pretty specific information for a myth.

How it works

Devices in the Find My network use Bluetooth wireless technology to detect missing devices or items nearby and report their approximate location back to the owner.

The entire interaction is end-to-end encrypted, anonymous, and consumes very little processing or battery power.

You’ll even get a warning if your device picks up an unrecognized accessory that may be traveling with them — essentially, you’ll be told if someone tries to track you.

When you set the accessory up, a cryptographic key pair is created. The owner’s Apple device retains both a private and a public key, while the accessory has the public key, which it broadcasts. This public key is picked up by nearby devices and shared with Apple’s servers — but this information is retrievable only by the device owner.

The developer app exposes some additional insights into how the system will work.

  • Items are considered as being in defined states, such as Nearby or Separated.
  • If you lose a device, you will be able to trigger the Separated state, and the system will help you find that item and alert users near to the device.
  • If the tracked item can’t be found, the system will provide you with its last known location.

Apple also recently updated its Find My app with a new Items tab, including icons for keys, bicycles, and backpacks. You can see this information for yourself on a Mac: just type findmy://items in Safari.

What about the enterprise?

The security of the system relies on one device being used to set up FindMy accessory tracking, which is then paired with the Apple ID in use on the owning device.

That’s great for consumers but may limit enterprise deployment of the technology. This would be a shame, given the growing use of Apple products across the enterprise.

To realize the potential in those markets, it will be necessary to develop some way to assign or share the privileges of device ownership, possibly through something like a Family plan or managed ID. These could then become useful adjuncts to equipment tracking and security, and should provide a real efficiency boost in some scenarios, such as health, exploration, and warehousing. 

NB: Apple is also announcing a draft specification for chipset manufacturers that will be released later this spring. With this, third-party device makers will be able to take advantage of Ultra Wideband technology in U1-equipped Apple devices

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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