It was easy to miss Apple’s new U1 chip because it wasn’t highlighted during the debut appearance of the iPhone 11 lineup, but it is present in all three of the new phones. Apple’s proprietary chip is designed to bring new location-tracking features, starting with spatial awareness when you’re using AirDrop. With the U1 chip on board both devices, you can just point your iPhone at another and it will appear at the top of the AirDrop list. Apple is planning to roll out more capabilities to take advantage of the new chip in the near future.
The U in U1 stands for Ultra Wideband. It is a short-range radio technology that’s capable of accurately measuring the distance between two devices with the U1 chip in them. This means it could be used to find devices indoors and pinpoint locations more accurately than GPS. Much like Bluetooth Low Energy, Ultra Wideband also doesn’t require much power to work.
Apple says that Ultra Wideband is bringing spatial awareness to the iPhone 11 so it can precisely locate other U1-equipped Apple devices. But for now, the capabilities are limited; if you want to share a file via AirDrop you’ll be able to point your iPhone at the iPhone you want to share with and it should appear at the top of your list of options.
Since Apple is merging Find My Friends and Find My iPhone in iOS 13, we think the new Find My app will use Ultra Wideband to help people find each other and to locate lost iPhones. Apple is expected to reveal more information about the U1 chip and what Ultra Wideband is capable of in the coming months.
It seems likely that a lot of Apple devices going forward are going to have a U1 chip in them. They’re obviously going to prove handy for iPhones, but could also be great in AirPods, Apple Watches, iPads, and other devices. Here’s the list of devices that have the U1 chip now:
A notable omission from this list is the iPhone SE (2020). Despite using Apple’s A13 Bionic processor, Apple’s budget phone does not have the U1 chip. However, it’s not missing much, as there aren’t many advantages to the chip yet.
There have also been persistent rumors swirling about Apple releasing some kind of location-tracking accessory, possibly called Apple Tags, which will work much like the best Bluetooth trackers, giving you the option of attaching them to keys, luggage, or anything else you want to keep tabs on. Interestingly, the prospect of a large network of devices with U1 chips could ensure that it’s easy to track your devices or tags because any iPhone or other devices with a U1 chip could detect another and send the location to Apple, which would then update your Find My app with the location.
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