A new chip integrated into Apple’s latest batch of iPhones may not do much today, but sure does lay the groundwork for future applications that haven’t previously been possible.
The chip hasn’t received much press coverage or as it’s only been used for the company’s local file-sharing system, AirDrop. However, after a bit more tweaking, the U1 chip could be the basis for applications that will be core to future Apple services and products.
The U1 chip utilizes a wireless technology called Ultra-Wideband (UWB). Apple has called it a “GPS at the scale of your living room.” The technology itself is pretty similar to WiFi. However, it operates in a different range of frequencies that improves performance and decreases interference. It is capable of sending a rapid-fire series of pulses over UWB-enabled devices nearby, faster and more efficiently than the more common Bluetooth standard.
UWB isn’t new technology. It’s been used in commercial and industrial settings for decades. However, the U1 chip will make the very first time it is used in a mass-market device. Apple has been pretty silent on it’s long-term plans for the chip, but researchers speculate that because of smart home and location-based technologies, it will take on a whole new life of it’s own.
For example, it could be used to unlock your car door when you approach it. Yes, this is possible with other wireless technologies, however, UWB is significantly more accurate than, let’s say, Bluetooth Low Energy. Even accurate enough to know which specific door you’re standing next to, so only that one is unlocked.
If this new chip gains momentum, Apple will not just have another differentiator for its developing AR platform; it will be out ahead of its competitors as new types of location-based and smart home apps gain in popularity.