Apple AirTags basically don't work in South Korea

I was intrigued the other day when I noticed that Coupang was selling AirTags here in Korea. Here is a set of 4 for 113,000 won.

Apple AirTags on Coupang

What most caught my eye was the number of apparently satisfied domestic users who had purchased them and left good reviews.

How were they making use of these? The Apple "Find My" network of worldwide iPhones, that works so well at locating items in any other country, is annoyingly nonfunctional in South Korea. Another victim of Korea's Cold War era mapping laws. 

[Sidenote: my own iPhone's Find My feature springs to life magically any time I physically return to the USA. If anybody knows of a hack to trick it to keep it always active, please let me know.]

So I went looking for any Korean users who might have used them. As expected, this guy has nothing show up on the Find My map.

AirTag locating via bluetooth on an iPhone. Images: Talented Jeju Boy (great name)

But the direct wideband Bluetooth locating function, or "Precision Finding" as Apple calls it on iPhone 11 and later models, does still appear to work. 

So, if you have an AirTagged item in South Korea, you will not be able to locate it at a distance with the Find My network, but you will be able to locate it if it is already near you and within range of your phone's Bluetooth. 

Not bad if you constantly lose your keys around the house, but pretty worthless if your main concern is your Apple items being stolen. 

Since I highly doubt the relevant conditions for getting the Find My network to function here will ever happen, I wouldn't bother buying AirTags here if I were you. 

Hat tip to: 애플 에어태그(AirTag) 한국에서는 무쓸모! 구매하지 마세요. 에어태그 기능/사용법/연결/NFC


IJJ said…
Alas, I too found this the hard way. I am a Korean guy btw.
I loved using Tile but found it frustrating when Tile sometimes won’t ring. This happens rarely but in a pinch this is maddening. But I loved it showing me its last location when not nearby - which means Apple can do this if they put their mind to it… after all, millions of iPhones are sold here in Korea but definitely not so with Tile. How come Tile’s mapping works then?
Anyway so I found an accidental solution - use both Tile and Apple Tags. Tile for when not nearby, Apple Tags when nearby. The direction pointer works beautifully and it has already saved me a few times.
Not ideal for sure, but works for me.
Sam Nordberg said…
@IJJ You mentioned "How come Tile's mapping works then?" and that is a good question. I don't understand what exactly makes some location tracking work and others not. I've ended up using Life360 to keep track of my various devices, partly because I need something that works across the Android/Apple divide and partly because it... well... works. I have never once gotten Find My to work on any Apple device.

With Google, it's been hit and miss. Some devices refuse to let me enable the location tracking feature built into Google Maps, but others do. I previously couldn't get Family Link's location checking feature to work, but lately I realized it does let me locate my tablet (though not my phone). It's strange.

The best I can come up with is that there seems to be some rule maybe about "unaware" tracking. Apps like Tile, Life360, force the user to be aware that the tracking is going on. Even Google gives a "this device was located" notification. But the Map-based location sharing, and presumably Apple's Find My, don't. They function in the background after initial set-up. Maybe that's the key? I read somewhere once that GPS tracking devices are not allowed here (some case about a guy who put one on his car to track his wife's infidelity) but I don't really know much about it beyond speculation.

Regardless, the AirTag issue is more like Tile, with clear awareness of the tracking, so I don't know why it would be hobbled like it is. Frustrating, but using most tech in Korea is frustrating. Just something we get used to. Thanks for the comment.