How to Create Your Own AirTag (That Apple Doesn’t Want You to Have)

How to Create Your Own AirTag (That Apple Doesn't Want You to Have)

Maria Diaz | ZDNET

Apple AirTags they are great. They help prevent me from basically losing all the important stuff. Keys, wallet, bags and even my bike are equipped with AirTag.

While the technology is great, I feel that the design, while iconic, is far from user-friendly when it comes to certain apps. One such application is wallet tracking. There are small adapters and pouches to attach the AirTag to your wallet, but they all add unnecessary bulk to your wallet.

Also: 7 Ways AirTags Can Make Your Life Easier (Besides Tracking Keys)

I mean, the AirTag is pretty thick – 7.86mm or 0.32 inches.

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It would be great if we could take the AirTag and put it in a smaller package.

Well, we can.

Also: The best AirTag accessories right now

Soon after Apple released AirTags, I picked up a modified AirTag from Etsy. The innards were removed and the label placed in a 3D printed shell.

It cost me more than twice the price of the AirTag, and while I was concerned about its reliability and sturdiness, this thing has lived in my wallet for over a year and is still going strong.

I bought my own customized AirTag “wallet” from Etsy over a year ago

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Why Apple didn’t do something like this, I have no idea.

The other day I was prompted to do something similar.

Also: How to find out if AirTag is tracking you

Well, what did I have to lose? I assume the AirTag if I broke it while thinning it out.

I’m afraid this is one of those projects where you’ll need a lot of equipment – a 3D printer, a soldering iron, a heat gun, and a bunch of other random tools.

It is not a “budget” project. You will also need a few pieces of thin wire (I used the wires holding the battery box on an old device). For clarity, I’m using red and black wire here, but it can be any color.

Also: How to get into 3D printing without breaking (too many) things

The wire must be thin enough to fit into the channels in the 3D printed case.

You will also need soldering knowledge, basic electronic skills and patience.

Some tools and materials I will need for this job

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And if you destroy the AirTag, it’s $30 straight in the trash!

Can I modify this AirTag without destroying it?

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How to create your own AirTag wallet

Here are some of the tools I used during this project:

The first thing I did was have someone make a 3D model for printing. I found a few on Thingiverse and chose this one. I have no idea if it’s the best; it just felt good to me.

Next, I had to pull the circuit board out of the AirTag. To do this I started by removing the battery (save the battery as you will need it).

Removing the battery from the AirTag

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That’s the easy part! Things get tougher from here.

I used a precision screwdriver and carefully separated the gray plastic from the white at the location shown in the image below.

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Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Take your time and eventually you will remove the gray plastic ring.

The gray plastic ring was removed, revealing the AirTag circuit board

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You’re not done yet, and things are about to get a lot more complicated!

In the middle is the speaker held in place with glue. Carefully scrape off the adhesive and pry out the speaker.

Very carefully!

Leveraging the AirTag speaker

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Underneath it is a coil of wire that activates the speaker. This is an incredibly thin wire, and if you damage the coil or connecting wire, the speaker won’t work (but the AirTag itself will still work, it just won’t make sound).

To make life difficult, the coil is glued to the plastic case.

I released the circuit board and coil using a combination of scissors to nibble the AirTag plastic casing and heat from a heat gun to soften the glue holding the coil in place.

Nibble the AirTag plastic with scissors

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Use a heat gun to soften the glue holding the coil in place

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Take your time because this is a super delicate job! Gently pry the coil and circuit board free.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

There are blobs of glue around the circuit board that you need to remove in order for the circuit board to fit into the case.

Do it gently! The glue is brittle and easy to remove.

Removing the adhesive from around the AirTag circuit board

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OK, with the circuit board out, it’s time to test that the parts are in the 3D printed case. Mine worked surprisingly well and needed no modifications.

Try mounting the AirTag circuit board and battery in a 3D printed case – be careful not to break the speaker coil!

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Time to do some soldering!

Three power wires need to be soldered.

I solder a black one that will go to the negative side or bottom of the battery, a red one that will go to the positive side or top of the battery, and a small jumper wire from where the red wire is soldered to the opposite pole of the battery.

Here is the diagram.

Schematic of how to solder the wires to the AirTag PCB

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Here’s what it looks like (I used a pretty thick wire here to make it stand out a bit better).

Wires soldered to the Airtag circuit board

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Note: If you want to test that the AirTag still works after disassembly, strip the ends of the wires and press the red wire to the top of the battery, the black to the bottom, and bring your iPhone nearby – it should try to connect!

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If that doesn’t work, check if you soldered the wires correctly. If this does not resolve, there is a chance that you have destroyed the AirTag.

Now for the awkward part. Be careful not to break the wires that hold the coil in place and cut the wires that you soldered to the circuit board.

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Remember that the exposed end of the red wire must touch the top or positive side of the battery and the exposed end of the black wire must touch the bottom or negative side. This can take a bit of prodding and I found it useful to use kapton mylar tape to hold the wires in place.

Remember, once you connect the wires, the label will wake up!

Kapton Mylar Tape — very thin and insulating

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It’s time to join the two halves of the 3D printed case together. Then I glued it together with superglue.

Also: You are using super glue all wrong

The glue makes it waterproof, but it means you’ll need a new case when you change the battery. By then I hope to have streamlined the process a bit and improved the design of the 3D printed case.

Final assembly and gluing

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And we’re done!

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Much thinner!

We reduced the thickness of the AirTag to 4.61 mm or 0.18 inches from 7.86 mm or 0.32 inches.

It is the same height and width as a credit or debit card and the thickness of several cards.

Pleased with the reduction in AirTag thickness

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The owner reports that it works great and has held up well in a tight wallet for the past few weeks.

The project was successful.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s clunky and I can see room for tweaks here, and it’s probably a cheaper and less difficult source, but it’s a great project and a test of your skills. If you want a bit of a challenge, this conversion is sure to give it to you!

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