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Here's what Apple's new U1 chip in the iPhone 11 & iPhone 11 Pro does

Apple's iPhone 11, one of the devices with Apple's new U1 chip

Apple's new U1 Ultra Wideband chip is in the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro family. Here's what it is, and what it does, and how it will help you.

The new Apple-designed U1 chip uses what's called Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness. Ultra Wideband (UWB) has been rumored to be arriving in the iPhone for most of 2019, and will greatly help with pinpoint location of iBeacons for interior navigation, finding other iPhones or future iPads with a U1 chip, AirDrop recipient selection, augmented reality image location, and similar uses.

What is Ultra Wideband?

UWB was once proposed as part of a personal area network, and was in a draft standard for a while after the turn of the century. Time, and Bluetooth, progressed, and the concept was ultimately shelved.

Bluetooth 5.1 has location detection and range-finding, but UWB is more precise and uses a slightly different technology for detection. Data can be contained in a UWB pulse, which is likely what Apple is using to identify AirDrop recipients.

UWB are universally short-range applications, given the low power and short duration of the pulses used in the technology. Unlike some wireless technologies, walls are not really an issue for UWB location and direction-finding.

Not quite fully realized yet

Most of the big-ticket features of the U1 are coming in iOS 13.1, and not with iOS 13 that will likely ship on the new iPhones. The improved AirDrop with direction awareness and suggestions on who to beam a file to arrives in that version of the operating system.

The technology will likely enhance the "Find My" app in the future, and interior navigation and Maps enhancements are obvious. We'd mentioned the device tracker rumors earlier — and that seems like an obvious use as well, given the removal of the word "iPhone" from the "Find My" app title.

Apple has high hopes for the U1. In Tuesday's event that saw the debut of the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, Apple says that not only is it the first UWB installation on a smartphone, but it will also add new features to the iPhone — and it is only just the beginning of what Apple has in mind for the technology.