Bottom line: The US Patent & Trademark Office on Thursday published what one publication is describing as master patents for Apple's upcoming AirTags item trackers. Given the expanded scope of the project, we may now know what is fueling the delay.

As Patently Apple highlights, Apple notes that the tags could be waterproof, or at the very least, splash proof, and might be rugged enough to withstand physical bumps. An internal battery, sensors, a wireless communications system and the ability to make noise / provide haptic feedback is also mentioned, but it's the potential use cases that are arguably the most interesting admission of all.

In one scenario, Apple envisions positioning a tag in the lobby of a building. When someone enters the lobby, their phone could detect it is within range of a tag and automatically load a map of the building on their handset. This sounds a lot like Apple's iBeacon location awareness product.

AirTags could also be slotted into an Apple Watch band or attached to the body by other means, perhaps to facilitate augmented reality games or for other entertainment purposes. Tags may also be used as actual game pieces, one of the patents suggests.

Apple was widely expected to unveil AirTags during September's press event, and then in October, but it didn't happen. Tech analyst Jon Prosser said earlier this month that the launch of AirTags was being pushed back to March 2021.

Masthead credit: Pres Panayotov