There’s something about the new iPhone models that Apple briefly revealed during the new product event last week, and we’re not talking about bilateral wireless charging. The latest and best Apple phones have a new chip called U1. So, what does this U1 do? The chips allow phones to access a technology known as ultra-broadband or UWB. With this technology, super-short radio waves are transmitted and the time required to travel between devices is measured. UWB will help an iPhone 11 owner find a phone, a lost dog, a keychain, a tag and more.
It seems that UWB would be used with so-called Apple Tags, and if Apple ever launched such a product, it could. But the potential for this goes far beyond the simple search for labels. Apple itself mentions its website when it says: “The new Apple‑designed U1 chip uses Ultra-Wideband technology for spatial awareness — allowing iPhone 11 Pro to understand its precise location relative to other nearby U1‑equipped Apple devices. It’s like adding another sense to the iPhone, and it’s going to lead to amazing new capabilities.”
The technology can now be used to put an iPhone companion on top of the AirDrop list
Potentially, this technology could allow you to get closer to your car and unlock it automatically without having to press a button (as long as you have your iPhone with you). When driving to the next destination and leaving the car, the vehicle will only lock when you walk away. And once you get home and go to your door, the lights will turn on automatically, safely illuminating the walkway. While Bluetooth-enabled devices can focus on one position in two seconds, UWB does it a thousand times faster. Furthermore, Bluetooth is not as precise and certainly not as secure as UWB, which has cryptographic capabilities.
Currently, the U1 chip will allow iPhone users to point their device to another iPhone and place that phone at the top of their AirDrop list. While Apple didn’t mention the U1 or UWB last Tuesday, the chip appeared on a screen behind Apple’s marketing director, Phil Schiller, while discussing all the features of the iPhone 11 Pro models.
“The new Apple-designed U1 chip uses ultra wideband technology for spatial awareness — allowing iPhone 11 Pro to precisely locate other U1-equipped Apple devices. It’s like adding another sense to the iPhone. With U1 and iOS 13, you can point your iPhone toward someone else’s, and AirDrop will prioritize that device so you can share files faster. And that’s just the beginning.”- Apple
The U1 joins the Apple processor family, including the A-series SoC that powers devices such as iPhones and iPads and the M-series coprocessors used in the iPhone so that the phone can determine whether the user is driving, walking, running or sleeping. And although the technology giant has not created a major problem with this technology, it has been busy submitting patent applications related to UWB.
A chipmaker called Decawave is one of several technology companies involved in UWB. The company’s vice president of marketing, Mickael Viot, says that UWB can identify positions up to four inches and under certain conditions that could be improved with a two-inch accuracy. To achieve this type of precise position detection, UWB transmits up to one billion pulses per second. The technology is actually found within the shoulder pads that NFL players use for instant reproduction and companies like Boeing use technology within the factories to tag and track the tools and other objects found on the floor of their factories.
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