GPS tracker vs. Apple AirTag: Function, Installation & Benefits

Small, cheap, versatile: the Apple AirTag has become a popular gadget. It is often advertised as a tracking device for theft protection, for example as a tracker for keys, wallets and even bicycles. But is it really also suitable for bicycle theft protection? Here we compare real GPS trackers with the Apple Bluetooth chip. Find out how both work, what the advantages and disadvantages are and why you can only get stolen bikes back with one of the devices.

About Apple AirTags vs. GPS trackers in a nutshell

  • Apple AirTags are Bluetooth trackers. Locating distant objects works via Crowd GPS and Apple’s “Where is” app.
  • Real GPS trackers such as BikeTrax use satellite signals for location tracking and send their location to a smartphone app or computer via a mobile network, for example.
  • Only GPS trackers are suitable for real-time tracking of moving objects. The same applies to bicycle theft protection. Apple AirTags are a good option for finding a lost item such as a key nearby.

Apple is not only successful with high-priced laptops, smartphones or tablets. Apple devices such as the Apple AirTags (sometimes incorrectly spelled Apple Air Tags) have also proved to be big sellers. The round pieces, the size of a two euro coin, are designed to help find lost or stolen items for little money. According to articles on the Internet, this includes stolen bicycles.

Are you skeptical? Rightly so. Because contrary to what is sometimes suggested, an AirTag is not a GPS tracker. Here we explain what this means and why the different functions of GPS trackers and AirTags are crucial when it comes to theft protection for bicycles.

Apple AirTag and GPS tracker – how the tracking devices work

We’ve already hinted at it: an Apple AirTag works differently to a GPS tracker. But what exactly is the difference?

Tracking with a GPS tracker

GPS trackers use the Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. This is currently a network of 24 satellites orbiting the earth. GPS trackers receive the signals from these satellites and use them to determine their position. They then send this information to an end device such as a smartphone, for example via mobile communications.

The basic functionality of GPS trackers is always the same. However, there are important differences in the details. These include the mobile radio standard used. It determines whether seamless real-time tracking of moving objects, such as a bicycle, is possible. Only then you can use a GPS tracker to track thieves who are driving a van on a country road towards the border. There are also trackers with or without a SIM card, in different shapes and with different types of attachment.

Tracking with an Apple AirTag

The Apple AirTag is not a GPS tracker. The Bluetooth tracker works with Crowd GPS.

This means that

  1. You can only locate the AirTag and the object it is attached to over a very short distance using Bluetooth signal (max. 30 meters Bluetooth range).
  2. Another person with an Apple iPhone who has installed and activated the “Find my” app is required to locate it over longer distances. If they get close enough to your AirTag, their smartphone will receive its position and can send it to your cell phone. Apple AirTags work only with Apple devices, Android users are excluded.

Bluetooth trackers are available from many brands. Well-known manufacturers besides Apple are Tile and Chipolo.

apple air tag

Apple AirTag

Via Crowd-GPS bzw.  Bluetooth kann man Alltagsgegenstände im Umkreis von bis zu 30 Metern tracken.

Bluetooth tracker “Tile”

The attachment

For bike location services with a tracking device, you need to attach it to the bike. Depending on the device, you have various options. Some are better than others.

How to hide an Apple AirTag on your bike – various gadgets

You can get a variety of mounts for Apple AirTags. These include ones specifically for bicycles. For example, you can attach AirTags to your bike with adhesive strips. More sophisticated are holders specifically for the handlebar head. The AirBell bicycle bell is visually indistinguishable from a normal bicycle bell, but offers you the option of integrating an AirTag.

You should bear this in mind when making your choice: If an AirTag is clearly visible, the risk of a thief simply removing it increases. In this case, it should at least be attached in such a way that it can only be removed with suitable tools and at great expense of time.

The installation of GPS trackers

How a GPS tracker is mounted on or in the bike or e-bike depends on the tracker:

  • Mini trackers such as the PAJ Allround Finder can be mounted with an adhesive strip or stored in the toolbox, for example.
  • The Alterlock tracker is attached under the bottle cage.
  • The Bikefinder tracker is integrated into the handlebar end.
  • Our BikeTrax GPS tracker, which is specially designed for e-bike owners, is concealed in the motor of your e-bike.

We also recommend this in this case: Prefer an inconspicuous mounting method. Otherwise there is a risk that thieves will remove or destroy the tracker. We advise against a visible attachment to the frame.

Apple AirTag vs. GPS tracker: a comparison of advantages and disadvantages

You can locate objects with both Apple AirTags and a real GPS trackers. But how well this works depends on the specific application.

Both have clear advantages and disadvantages, which are reflected in the price:

Advantages and disadvantages of Apple AirTag

  • Small and handy
  • inexpensive
  • versatile (for wallets, car keys, backpacks etc.)

  • Tracking only works reliably over very short distances (max. 30 meters)
  • Real-time location of moving objects is not possible
  • The anti-stalking feature (loud beeping) alerts thieves to the AirTag

Vor- und Nachteile von GPS-Trackern

  • Reliable and precise location via GPS
  • Real-time location of moving objects possible, depending on the model
  • Can also be integrated inconspicuously into the bike, depending on the model

  • More expensive than simple Bluetooth trackers

What is suitable as bicycle theft protection?

Do you need a high-quality GPS tracker to protect your bike or e-bike from thieves or will an Apple AirTag do? There is a clear answer to this question.

The Apple device AirTag as a bike tracker for theft protection

Crowd GPS trackers such as Apple AirTags are ideal for finding lost keys, backpacks or wallets, for example. In this case, the Bluetooth signals and Crowd GPS are usually sufficient.

The situation is different for stolen bikes for two reasons:

  • For you to get the location data of your bike, there must be nearby devices (persons with an iPhone who have the “Find my” app activated). In the middle of a big city, the chances of Apple iPhone users are still quite good, but not on country roads.
  • Even if the above requirements are met, your bike will only be tracked briefly, at least when it is in motion. It is therefore a snapshot, not real-time tracking.
  • There is also the anti-stalking feature of AirTags that prevents from unwanted tracking. These warn potential stalking victims a few hours after they have been separated from their owner with a loud beep. There are good reasons for this. In the event of theft, however, the feature is counterproductive because it alerts thieves to the AirTag on the bike.

For these reasons, you have to be very lucky if you want to recover a stolen bike or e-bike via an Apple AirTag.

GPS for your bike or e-bike

Unlike Apple AirTags, real GPS trackers are able to locate the exact position of moving objects and send this information to a smartphone or other device. However, this does not apply equally to every product.

When choosing, pay particular attention to the following features:

  • seamless real-time tracking using a suitable mobile radio standard
  • Hidden mounting on the bike or e-bike
  • Long battery life
  • integrated SIM card

Conclusion: The Apple AirTag is not an anti-theft device for bicycles

An Apple AirTag is a useful gadget for people who like to lose things. Simply attach it to your backpack or keys and you’ll know where they are.

However, you should always bear in mind that an Apple AirTag is not a GPS tracker. It only locates objects independently if they are in the immediate vicinity. For anything beyond that, another person with an iPhone and the “Where-is” app is required. AirTags are therefore not suitable as theft protection for movable objects. If you want to locate a stolen bike or e-bike, you need a GPS tracker such as BikeTrax from PowUnity: with seamless real-time tracking, an additional battery and well-hidden mounting inside the e-bike.

FAQs about Apple AirTags and GPS trackers

What is the difference between Crowd GPS and GPS?

GPS (Global Positioning System) is a satellite-based navigation system. It consists of a network of satellites orbiting the earth. GPS receivers on earth use signals from these satellites to calculate their exact location. GPS works globally and usually provides a very accurate location. Crowd GPS uses the connection between multiple devices, such as smartphones, that have a specific app installed. When a lost object equipped with a Crowd GPS chip comes close to another device in this network, its location is reported to the owner of the tag via the internet. The accuracy of the location depends on the number and distribution of participating devices.

What are Apple AirTags suitable for?

An Apple AirTag is a small, round gadget that you can attach to purses or backpacks, for example. It is ideal if you want to locate and recover lost items at a short distance. Real-time tracking of moving objects such as a bicycle or e-bike is hardly possible with this device.

Why do you need real GPS trackers for bike theft protection?

With a GPS tracker like BikeTrax from PowUnity, you can locate moving objects over long distances. You can track the location of a stolen bike or e-bike and pass it on to the police. The prerequisite for this is that the tracker enables seamless real-time tracking. Also make sure it has a long battery life, an integrated SIM card and is mounted as inconspicuously as possible. BikeTrax is integrated into the motor of your e-bike. This guarantees that the device is invisible to thieves. You will also receive an alarm and a push notification on your cell phone as soon as someone else moves your e-bike.

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