• Nandan V

Apple U1 - Magical?

Apple recently announced it's 2019 iPhone lineup, the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. The most exciting upgrade is the cameras, or that's what Apple told you.

The geek within me.

Every Apple product has custom made chips in it to serve a particular purpose with perfection. I have an article explaining all of it (including the U1) here.


What does it do in my iPhone?

Assuming you have the iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max, the U1 chip inside improves the AirDrop experiences making it a lot more intuitive. You can just point at your friend's iPhone and it'll show up on the top of the list, no more endless scrolling. That's not the whole story though. The U1 chip uses Ultra WideBand technology and does a whole lot more than that!


Ultra what?

Ultra WideBand (UWB) technology is not a fancy name like we are used to from Apple. It is not something Apple invented either. The technology has been around for a long time and the only reason we did not see it till now is primarily due to its cost.


Spectrum used by UWB. Source: Microwaves & RF

Huge industries use UWB to keep track of equipment as it offers insanely high accuracies in the range of centimeters. We all know how terrible "Find My iPhone" (or "Find My" since iOS 13) is when it comes to location accuracy. UWB is also creeping into the healthcare sector where it used not only for communication between medical devices but for measurement of vital parameters like respiration rate. I will try to explain this technology in a separate article, it gets technical really fast.


So what can it do?

Glad you asked. The U1 chip offers very low power, very high accuracy location tracking. This means you no longer have to search the ballpark for your phone, instead, it will point you to the rock it lies under.

Indoor guidance system by Fujitsu utilizing UWB. Source: The Verge

The U1 chip is not just for that either. Think of all those times you went to a shopping mall using GPS. You got to the parking lot just fine, but then finding that place which sells those tasty tacos, it probably took you an eternity. The U1 chip will help you with that too! It can guide you to the store with absolute ease. Triangulation techniques using multiple UWB transceivers will make this possible. Apple calls the U1 chip a GPS for your living room. We can expect this feature sooner than later.

I am still not done, consider yourself walking down the road and laughing at a meme. You approach a pole and you see a notification pop up saying "Collision imminent", you look up and avoid the collision and get back to whatever you are up to.

Doesn't make sense to you? Probably not. This is, however, a great deal useful to differently-abled people. Think about turn by turn, step by step navigation.

The possibilities are truly endless.

Update 1:

The addition of the U1 chip also means the introduction of a token like Tile for tracking your belongings. Apple's push for better AR will result in a revolutionary experience. You can just point your camera and see balloons popping over your trackers! The extreme precision and accuracy of the UWB technology will ensure you'll find what you lost.


What's the catch?

Yes, there is one. In this YouTube video, it demonstrates how the radiation energy emitted from the iPhone 11 Pro is an order of magnitude more than that from the iPhone 8 or Samsung Note 10+. I am skeptical but cannot find any logical explanation for that spike.

This is a concern and can be debated at length. At best, all it tells us is that it's not perfect. Apple will polish it next time around. Remember what the first Apple Watch was like? Look at it now.


Conclusion

It is going to take some time for the U1 to reach its full potential. We have really interesting times ahead of us. To answer my initial question, no, it's not magical, just clever science (as always).


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