Despite much fanfare around its recent acoustic inventions, Apple didn’t offer any stage time to its U1 chip when it was released in September 2019 along with the iPhone 11. The chip didn’t didn’t get much press coverage, possibly — in part because it is currently used only for the organization’s neighborhood file-sharing system, AirDrop.
However, in space-limited handsets like the iPhone, a new component is not introduced unless it has a significant part to play: the U1 processor might be the basis for applications which will be heart to future Apple products and services. This technology is similar to WiFi, but it operates in a different range of frequencies which will generally see less interference and consequently increased performance. It transmits a quick series of pulses within a broad spectrum to other UWB-enabled devices near to ascertain their precise positions, and also to transfer large amounts of data — more than is possible with the more common Bluetooth standard.
Ultra-wideband is not brand new; it has been used in commercial and industrial contexts for years, for example to label boxes in enormous warehouses for later retrieval. It’s also in apparatus worn by athletes so that television broadcasts may track their positions for digital overlays and augmented reality replays. The U1 processor, however, marks the first time a mass-market apparatus has included UWB.
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By SOPHIE CHARARA
Apple has been silent about its long-term plans for the processor, but scientists have found several applications for UWB. It was originally pitched to consumers (with little success) as a means to quickly transfer large files to neighboring personal devices, but the proliferation of smart home and location-based technologies has given it a new life.
For example, UWB could be used to unlock your automobile door when you approach it. While this is possible with other wireless technologies, UWB is significantly more accurate than, say, Bluetooth Low Energy — true enough to understand which particular door you’re standing next to, so just that one is unlocked.
Leaks out of Cupertino have indicated that Apple plans a rival for Tile — the digital tags you attach to valuables so that you may locate them using an app. Because Tile goods rely upon Bluetooth LE, U1-equipped tablets and locator tags are more accurate at finding a precise site.
Researchers also have demonstrated that the underlying technology has powerful use cases on the planet of augmented reality, where Apple has invested heavily in recent decades. CEO Tim Cook has stated that he believes AR will become as profound as the introduction of the smartphone.
The U1 chip could help Apple’s cellular devices establish stronger, more reliable relations together in AR applications. It might let two apple iPhones to always know where the other is in a multi-user AR experience, and its transfer speeds would let them talk to one another in ways that have not previously been practical.
By JAMES CRABTREE Some prior efforts have succeeded; others haven’t. However, if this one does gain momentum, Apple doesn’t only have another differentiator for its growing AR platform; it’ll be out ahead of its rivals as new kinds of location-based and clever house programs gain in popularity.