Apple iPhone 11 U1 Ultra Wideband Chip Could Power Bold New AR Experiences

Many people have been talking about the upcoming iPhone 11’s trypophobia-triggering cameras, but the device’s insides are the real attention grabber. The iPhone 11 will ship with Apple’s new U1 chip. Although the U1 chip’s Ultra Wideband technology will initially be used in a limited capacity, it could potentially power new augmented reality experiences and security features.

First, what is Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology? UWB is a radio technology that is used for short-range, high-bandwidth communications. It is particularly useful for precision location and tracking and time-of-arrival-based localization.

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Apple’s UWB technology will be primarily used for spatial awareness. According to Apple, the U1 chip allows, “iPhone 11 Pro to understand its precise location relative to other nearby U1‑equipped Apple devices.” At the moment, the U1 chip’s UWB capabilities will only be used with Apple’s AirDrop feature. AirDrop allows users to share photos, videos, documents with other nearby Apple devices. However, the chip’s UWB technology could potentially have more far-reaching uses.

First, the U1 chip’s UWB capabilities could better AR experiences. Rumor has it that Apple is currently working on an AR headset. iOS developer Steve Troughton-Smith found an iOS 13 file that explained to developer how to run AR apps on an iPhone when a headset was absent. The UWB technology could help the iPhone precisely locate and track a headset. This would enable more seamless AR experiences. Apple did not announce the AR headset or related tech at their keynote event, but the UWB technology could help to pave the way.

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Second, the U1 chip could improve security. Many wireless devices connect via Bluetooth. Bluetooth technology measures the strength of a wireless connection and then estimates a nearby device’s distance. UWB technology measure the round-trip time of radio signals to determine the distance of another device. The U1 chip could therefore find out the precise location of other devices. This technology is overall more secure and could be used in anything from home security to mobile payments.

Although the technology is only being used with their AirDrop feature, its future applications could be extensive. NXP Semiconductors recently announced that it would be developing its own UWB technology and listed AR as one of its uses. It will be interesting to see whether other companies like Google also adopt the technology in the future, especially in AR devices.