What is the iPhone 11 U1 UWB chip feature and why is it significant?

What is the iPhone 11 U1 UWB chip feature and why is it significant?

WARNING: This is NOT one of those oooohhhh and aahhhhh blog post fanning out on Apple’s latest iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro Max. If you were expecting that, there are many Apple Fansites and mainstream media who have extensive reviews of the iPhone 11 they held for 5 minutes…

As most of you know by now, I usually don’t follow any Apple events. I don’t own any Apple devices nor do I use any Apple products. As a Techie, I like to keep on top of what’s happening and of course, Apple can not be ignored. I typically let the marketing-hype-feeding frenzy die down and then I like to look at the nerdy stuff like the specs or anything that is out of the ordinary that is worth noting.

With both the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11Pro, there is a hidden nugget that is more impressive than a faster processor, battery life, 3-cameras, and the usual non-expandable storage (*sigh).

Apple has included a U1 chip and that is wow.


What is the U1 Chip?

Apple didn’t go into depth about this but gently mentioned that when you want to AirDrop something to a contact in the nearby proximity to you, you can point your phone towards that person and their name will move to the top of the list making it easier to share.

Oh Apple, you left out the most important thing – the U1 Chip is UWB (ultra-wideband)

What is Ultra wideband or UWB?

By now we are all pretty comfortable with Mobile Data and Wifi which connect us to a network; be it a cellular network or a localized network. Bluetooth and NFC connect us to things that are close to us such as headphones or being able to make payment by waving our phone over the point of sale device.

Now we have a new communication tech that we need to know. The UWB.

A simple way to think of UWB as GPS that works indoors. UWB knows your exact position and can work out how far or near you are to other UWB devices. Besides being highly accurate, it uses little power,  is highly secure and highly robust.

So I know what you are thinking….why do we care that the iPhone 11 UWB is active?

What are some uses for UWB?

Imagine you have your phone in your pocket and as you drive into your driveway the front gate opens perfectly timed so you just through. The outside lights switch on and you can hear your coffee machine brewing.  As you reach your door it unlocks while your car simultaneously locks itself. As you walk towards your TV, it changes to your personalized profile settings while your fav music begins to play and follows you from room to room. Instead of looking for your keys/ wallet/ virtual reality glasses/ gaming controller all you do is point your phone and it shows you exactly where the item is.

This becomes possible by knowing your exact location in comparison to other UWB enabled devices.

How does UWB work?

For the full detailed and technical explanation of how UWB works, head over to this Wikipedia page but to keep it simple: UWB sends 1 pulse every 1 or 2 nanosecond over a number of frequency channels at once ie. a lot of signals constantly being sent very quickly. The system then works out how long it takes the pulse to travel to the UWB device. Based on the time and the pulse patterns it knows how close or far that object is.

So in summary:

This is awesome. The potential that iPhone 11 UWB unlocks is superb and goes way beyond just AirDropping the latest meme to your mates or strangers. Now that the hardware is baked into the iPhone’s hardware, it means that software application will be developed and these can be distributed via a software update.

This is just the beginning of UWB and I gotta take my hat off to Apple for adding this chip as where the hardware is, developers will follow!

As Gary Vaynerchuk says: Always be afraid of the Apple and the Googles


Liron Segev - TheTechieGuy

Liron Segev is an award-winning tech blogger, YouTube strategist, and Podcaster. He helps brands tell their stories in an engaging way that non-techies can relate to. He also drinks way too much coffee! @Liron_Segev on Twitter

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