Apple adds Ultra Wideband communications chip to iPhone 11

Apple iPhone 11 screen with headshots
ULTRA SERVICES: Apple says the new U1 chip will lead to “amazing new capabilities”

Apple’s iPhone 11 smartphones will come with a new chip that supports ultra wideband communications, opening up the potential for the devices to support a range of new proximity-based services including item tracking, keyless vehicle entry and mobile payments

“The new Apple‑designed U1 chip uses ultra wideband technology for spatial awareness — allowing iPhone 11 to precisely locate other U1‑equipped Apple devices,” Apple says. “Think GPS at the scale of your living room.”

“It’s like adding another sense to iPhone, and it’s going to lead to amazing new capabilities.” the iPhone maker adds.

Apple has been rumoured to be working on a new item tracking service that would see users able to add small devices to important items and then receive an alert any time their device gets too far away from the tag.

“UWB’s technological trick is allowing devices to pinpoint one another’s locations in the real world with great precision,” Six Colors reports.

“From raw data alone, UWB devices can detect locations within 10cm (4 inches), but depending on implementation that accuracy can be lowered to as much as 5mm.”

“The technology works by using a method that Apple’s already using in allowing Apple Watches to unlock Macs: using the total round-trip time of a radio signal (measured in nanoseconds — radio waves move at the speed of light) to calculate how far away a device is. This prevents your Apple Watch from unlocking a Mac unless it’s in close proximity.

“This is an important security feature, because other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth tend to estimate distance by measuring the strength of a wireless signal, not the time it takes for it to be sent to a device and then returned back to the sender.

“Sneaky people could relay a signal and boost its power and fool a Bluetooth device into thinking you were nearby when you weren’t.”

Potential applications include smart home tech, augmented reality, mobile payments, keyless vehicle entry and indoor navigation, the report adds.