Learning by Shipping (AirTag Edition)

by Colin Berkshire

Apple AirTags are remarkable tracking devices.

You can put one of these half-dollar sized disks into a package, or hang it on your pet’s collar, or stick it to anything you desire to track. (Think: grandkids at Disneyland.)

I’ve been experimenting with them by mailing them to friends across the country, in Hawaii, and now to international destinations, They work. They work really remarkably outstandingly well.

In my most recent test I stuck one into a 66 pound package I mailed to family in Japan. Large, bulky packages like this can take up to 5 months to be delivered. (That’s 4 months and 29 days within the US and 2 days within Japan, by the way.) I don’t know what the US Postal Service does with large, heavy packages to Japan for five months, but this isn’t an isolated incident. They must have warehouses full of Christmas 2020 packages that are just now getting delivered. (Yes, I speak from personal experience not his.)

So with this latest 66 pound unwieldly large box coated in 4 layers of tape I decided to find out why these packages take to long to be delivered. And, just because, I slapped fluorescent yellow 6”x6” labels on all sides that read: “TRACKING DEVICE ENCLOSED. Do not delay or an exception report will be made.” I’m not sure that anybody ever reads tha labels on the outside of packages, but as using tracking devices in a parcel is new, I wanted to make full disclosure.

Two very remarkable things happened:

First, the package flew through the US postal system. I’m used to the sporadic intermediate package transfer notifications on International packages. As a package slogs its way through USPS lethargy I get one every week or few weeks or few months as a parcel is scanned and they do whatever with it. But this parcel absolutely flew through the system. Within 24 hours it has passed through four sorting stations in the Seattle area (why does it need to go through so many?). It continued to just sail through every post office, like a game of Hot Potato. Within 3 days it was on an airplane to Japan. Trust me, in 20 years of mailing international packages to Asia I have never seen anything like it. I’ll attribute it to the fluorescent yellow labels which the postal employees took quite seriously.

More remarkable was the visibility that I had on the parcel. I was able to follow it on roads and could see it moving around within the US postal service building. When the long-haul truck driver stopped to eat lunch at an Arby’s in Redding CA, I could see the package there, and when the driver was done the package was on the move again.

I loved when I could see the package at San Francisco Airport, at the specific gate, as it was being loaded onto the airplane.

This is a remarkable level of accountability and visibility.

That there is no monthly or annual fee and that these cost just $25 each is remarkable. It’s an unprecedented value from Apple or any other company.

The opportunities within business for these things is mind boggling. Inter-facility mail should have one in every shipment. Since they can be re-used infinitely, there is no reason not to have traceability and accountability. One should be buried in your briefcase. Every visitor to your facility should have to carry one (attach it to the visitor ID card they must carry.)

The possibilities are endless.