Last month, our AirTag-wearing cat didn’t come home from one of his rambles. His AT showed “Location unknown” in Find My. A week or so later, his AT location updated to a spot in our neighborhood, but several hundred yards away from our house. Fearing the worst, we went looking.
A thorough ground search of the area was fruitless. Twice we were able to get the “Find” button inside Find My to report “Connected”, but with a signal too weak to guide to (“try moving to a different location”).
So we’ve made our peace with the fact that Clive is no longer with us. But the AT from his collar keeps being picked up by some iPhone out there. Always in the exact same spot. Sometimes it will not be reported for a couple weeks, then it starts showing up again every few hours. But if I go and stand in that exact spot, I get nothing. The Find button just says “Searching…”, but never “Connected.”
How is it possible the AT location is being reported by some iPhone(s) in a specific and unchanging spot, and yet I be unable to find it, despite standing on that exact spot?
I would assume it’s possible that spot is simply wrong. If the device registering the AirTag does not properly know where it is (eg. my Mac vs. my iPhone), it will still be reporting that location to Apple’s Find My database. And that is what you are querying so you’d then end up searching in the wrong location for that AirTag.
Cat guy here. I’m very sorry to hear about your cat going missing.
I’m sorry to hear about your cat. I love animals. I have 3 dogs and 8 cats. I feel your pain.
One of my cats wears an Apple AirTag because he hates to stay in the house and likes to roam. I cannot say an AT is reliable. It can be very flakey, to say the least. I’ve had experiences very similar to yours. When it happens, I refresh the Find My app and sometimes, it helps.
I’m really sorry about Clive.
I’m no expert here, but have some ideas, for what they are worth (sadly I expect you’ve already thought of the more obvious ones, and the slightly more inventive ones are unlikely, but - food for thought?).
- Important to note - I believe the system reports the location of the finding iPhone, not the AirTag.
- Perhaps there is some difference between the iPhone(s) that can successfully hear the AirTag and yours. Some difference in radio performance (around 2.4GHz). If yours is in a case, perhaps try using it without?
- Humans are 80% water and are quite effective at blocking radio signals at Bluetooth wavelengths. Try standing on the spot, but rotate through 360 degrees, so that the phone has more chance of direct line of sight to the AirTag without a human in the way. (Apparently an AirTag transmits every 2 seconds when away from its owner’s device, so - rotate slowly - perhaps take a minute to do a full turn.)
- Radio signals can be reflected. Are there cars or other large metal objects in this location? (Occasional road sweeper?) I wonder if the physics of the surroundings occasionally conspire to make the AirTag easier to hear at the reported location.
- Turn off any other Bluetooth devices you have with you whilst searching, just in case they interfere.
- If you are standing in the reported spot, I guess the elevation is still another possible variable. Try holding your iPhone much higher? And lower?
- Still wondering about elevation - you mention a thorough ground search. I expect you have, but consider looking up high and low too. Are there trees in this location?
- Another possibility (as Simon suggests) is that the iPhone (or Mac?) reporting hearing the AirTag is itself misidentifying its location. So the reporting device might not actually be at this location. Perhaps a GPS jammer device near the device? I read a story a few years ago which I can’t find again now. If I remember correctly, it described an issue with (I think Apple’s?) location services, where one house was repeatedly reported for theft. The individuals there were not actually involved in criminal activity. A particular error (in identifying GPS location?) had the effect of changing many reported locations (here, of thefts) to this particular house.
EDIT: I searched for [find airtag “pringles”], knowing that Pringles tubes are sometimes used to try and make more selective antenna (although I don’t know how effectively). I didn’t find anything like that, but did come across a Reddit thread (from 2 years ago) about tracking down an AirTag perhaps hidden in a car with some suggestions that might be helpful here. The most upvoted suggestion was to try using the nRF Connect for Mobile app. I’ve just had a quick play - looks interesting - it shows various data and graphs about signal strengths of nearby Bluetooth devices.
Another idea there that I liked was to find and contact a local amateur radio club and see if anyone there could help. RF seems deeply mysterious and somewhat magical to me, but there are people with knowledge and experience
I’m sorry for your loss. :(
AirTags use different radio frequencies for different functions. Wherever the tag is, it’s possible that the signal for pinging off other devices is able to propagate, but the UWB signal for precise location cannot. The only suggestion I can think of is to remember that the reported location is based on the iPhone that detected the ping, so the tag is nearby, but not necessarily exactly in that place.
Wow, thanks for all the great ideas, Ashley! I will have to give nRF Connect a shot at the location. FWIW, the reported location is in a suburban neighborhood, allegedly near the sidewalk and to the side of a driveway. There’s nothing above, but I have thought about the possibility there may be a drain beneath the AT might have washed into.
Aha, that is an interesting theory, one that at least partly addresses why an iPhone might report the AT as “nearby”, but still not be able to locate it. Thanks!
Also keep in mind that an iPhone that reports the location of the tag might be passing by, but since the phone is moving, its location might not be “solid” (moving location can be off by a block or more in my experience).
Another point to consider is that the tag could simply be quite far from its reported location. I had one on my dog on his collar he got it caught on a wire in the woods and tore off the collar. I thought the collar and tag were gone as there are no iPhones in the woods to report its location (it’s too far from the road).
But when I got in certain places on my property the tag was “found” but too weak to tell me where. I also couldn’t hear the beeping of the tag as it was too far away. I wandered around and the weird thing was that the tag signal was always reported as being weak, even when I moved closer to it. I found certain directions would make it go away completely, but it didn’t show a gradually stronger signal when I got closer.
I finally went about 200 yards from where I’d first gotten the location and the weak signal and then I heard the beeping and found the tag (and collar) on the ground. It was way farther than I would have expected. So you might consider that and expand your certain 100+ yards around where you think the tag is located – if you get a weak signal, then the tag could still be 100+ yards away, but you’re closer.
I have a somewhat similar issue. My car was stolen from our house. It was found minus the keys which were attached to an AirTag. My FindMy app says the keys are “near” when I am at home (seen recently) but despite moving around the property I can’t locate them. I doubt they are here and assume this is a bogus identification / location.
I’m sorry to hear about that. This would be the likely outcome if the thieves had disabled your AirTag right when they stole the car. The last ‘ping’ would then have come from near your house. The keys are likely nowhere close.
I hope you had new locks made since they got the keys and knew the address they belong to. A poor old lady here in Berkeley was recently car jacked and later that day the same thugs showed up to clean out her house too. They got the address off her registration in the glovebox of course.
Thanks for that and yes new locks. Curiously my FindMy app keeps saying the tag was “last seen” within a few hours. I have looked (literally) high and low and near and far but I never gets closer than the statement that they are “near”
I’m afraid that might be a bug.
I once left my AirPods in a bin at TSA at Dulles. From the moment I realized I had lost them (about 5 min after the cabin door had been shut, up to the day I deleted them from my iDevice listing, they showed as being in the greater Chicago area as of a “few hours ago”.
I get variations of that same message too. Right now my problematic AT is showing “Last seen yesterday, 2:23 PM”, in the exact same spot it’s been for a month now, yet visiting that location yields nothing better than the “Nearby” status.
Piping in with first, my condolences on your cat’s disappearance. I have a soft spot for all animals, and love cats—and their owners’ love for them!
On Ashley and other’s suggestions: it does seem that outdoors, a distant iPhone or iPad or Mac with sufficient Bluetooth range could be causing incorrect reporting. It might be within a cone of 1,000 square feet or more—hundreds of feet in any direction. Bluetooth can bounce surprisingly.
The AirTag should stop reporting when it can no longer be pinged, so if the information remains in place, it seems like it’s generated a weak signal to a device that could far away but strong enough for faint Bluetooth reception.