Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

How to an iPhone and AirTag can be used for home treasure hunts

Apple’s AirTag inspired a game around the house, and provided you have a recent iPhone and an AirTag, you can do it, too.

When you’re a parent, finding a way to keep the kids engaged all the time can be a challenge, which is why so many of us turn to games. You’ll have the odd idea here and there that the kids will love, and you can turn to Bluey for quite a few others, but sometimes those ideas for kids games can just come to you when you’re doing something else.

It’s like anything: you can be inspired at any time, though with kids games, your kids will be your muse. That was certainly the case when we wrote this article.

When we make our way out to days out, we’ve previously considered whether a personal tracker would be a good thing to have on the kids as they grow up. They wouldn’t need it at all times, just for when there’s a chance they might accidentally get split off, particularly in a busy crowd.

Hand-holding will only do so much, and be it through an errant slip or just a momentary glance, you might lose track of them and wonder where they went.

To deal with that, we’ve turned to a wrist-strap with an Apple AirTag in place, simply because of the use of ultra-wideband.

While Apple’s AirTag is well known because it can help you find items such as luggage or even your car, many know of this technology because it bounces signals on every other recent iPhone, using the position of other people’s phones as a sort of background tracker.

But the Apple AirTag has more going for it than simply bouncing signals like any other tracker, which is also how devices like the Tile tracker work, albeit with other Tile owners using the Tile app.

Apple AirTag

Rather than rely solely on background pings from devices, an AirTag can use a wireless transmission called “ultra-wideband”, and together with a recent iPhone, it can turn that phone into a sort of GPS for finding your way back to the AirTag itself.

Provided your AirTag is nearby, either on or in something, you can find your way back to it using the screen on your phone, pointing you to its location by telling you how far within its reach you are which way to go.

And that gave this Dad an idea.

Turning your home into a treasure hunt

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that as a technology journalist and reviewer, I’m all about teaching how technology works. Often times, it’s next to impossible to get me to shut up, evident from those times I appear on radio.

In this instance, as I showed the five year old how the technology worked, she had me repeatedly place an AirTag somewhere and was amazed at how the phone could find its way back to, directing her left, right, forward, and gradually vibrating as she made her way closer and closer to its spot.

So we decided to try something different: placing it elsewhere in the home.

It’s very much like a game of hide and seek, only the technology is hidden and your kids are seeking it. A sort of localised game of geocaching, which is very much a treasure finding game for the kids using the parent’s iPhone, of course.

Apple's AirTag is about the size of an Australian 50 cent coin, making it easy to hide in your home.
Apple’s AirTag is about the size of an Australian 50 cent coin, making it easy to hide in your home.

How to make a home treasure hunt with an iPhone and AirTag

To do this, you’re going to need a couple of things, and they’re all quite recent.

Understandably, you’ll need an AirTag that you want to be found, and once you have it, you can just register it with any name. I ended up using the one I normally use for my backpack, but you can use one just for treasure hunts if you like.

Then you need an iPhone, because an AirTag will only register with an Apple account on an iPhone, and only recent iPhones have the ultra-wideband technology also known as “UWB”. However, it also needs to be a recent iPhone, something from either an iPhone 11 or higher.

If you have last year’s iPhone 14 or 14 Pro, you’re fine, and if you have anything with the name “iPhone 12” or “iPhone 13” in it, you’re good too.¬†Frankly, if you have anything from an iPhone 11 back in 2019, you have a device that supports tracking on ultra-wideband.

Sadly, this won’t work with any of the iPhone “X” models — such as the iPhone XR, iPhone XS Max, or iPhone X — and it’s also not in the iPhone SE, either, whether you’re looking at the 2nd-gen SE or the more recent 3rd-gen 2022 iPhone SE.

Once you have those two gadgets, you really only need a good hiding spot, something to place with the treasure, and some trust that your kids won’t drop your phone. You may want to consider a good case and screen protection, or to hold their hand as they go.

How to find an Apple AirTag

Trust is important, because if the kids are doing the finding, they’re also going to be holding onto your phone, but you can be there with them in case they need help.

To start, you only need to take them to the “Items” tab inside “Find My” on an iPhone, and then pick the Tag they’re looking for.

From there, they really just need to follow the directions on a recent iPhone, using the power of ultra-wideband signals to drive them forward, left, and right, before the phone vibrates as they near the AirTag.

Hopefully, you’ll have left something nearby for the actual treasure hunt, such as some chips or sweets, or maybe a gift-wrapped colouring book with pencil for them to use. In either case, once they find the AirTag, they may want to “hunt” for treasure again, and that can get you playing this game with your phone for a while longer, too.

In our case, Ms 5 had so much fun trying to find an AirTag, she wanted to try flipping the tables on us and hiding it herself, basically making it into a who-can-stump-whom game, a little like a more tech savvy game of “Hide and Seek”. If that’s what it turns into, great, and it’s just one more way to keep the kids having fun.


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