The U1 chip wasn’t mentioned at all in Apple’s press release of the iPad Pro 2020. But iPadOS 13.4 code suggests its existence.
The iPhone 11 models have a new chip called U1 to enable ultra-wideband (UWB). It allows for precise location tracking. Apple says it lets these phones have “spatial awareness” so the iPhone 11 Pro can figure out its location in relation to other U1 chips. A use-case is pointing your iPhone at another iPhone so AirDrop will prioritize that device when it comes to sharing files. But what happens when retail stores can track your chip?
Essentially, the new chip is a marketer’s dream in a box. Shops already track your purchases, leading to cases like the infamous 2012 case where Target unintentionally divulged a teen’s pregnancy to her father. When a store has UWB-enabled access points, it will be easy to monitor a phone’s location indoors and track what you considered purchasing in addition to what you actually purchase.
This article is a great example of false equivalence. By including both Apple and Amazon and writing about each company’s efforts with location technology, the reader is led to believe that we have to worry about both companies. But of course, that isn’t true. Apple has much better privacy practices, while Amazon barely knows the word.
It could be that with the privacy-focused techlash of recent years, both are treading carefully in the launch stages. Just look at how Amazon’s acquisition of mesh networking company eero was received earlier this year or the widespread interest in Huawei’s level of involvement with 5G networks. Location tracking in particular is currently the focus of much more granular controls in iOS 13 and Android 10 than ever before.
You wouldn’t know it because it wasn’t mentioned during the iPhone 11 keynote, but the new iPhones have a new chip. Called Ultra Wideband, or “U1” it’s a way for iPhones to figure out their position in 3D space relative to other U1 devices. Apple mentions the use-case of a person pointing their U1 iPhone at another U1 iPhone to send files over AirDrop. Jason Snell writes that this is just the beginning.
But the possible applications of UWB go way beyond AirDrop and tracking tags. Decawave’s Viot says potential applications include smart home tech, augmented reality, mobile payments, the aforementioned keyless car entry, and even indoor navigation. (And it’s not a power hog, either—Viot says that Decawave’s latest UWB chip uses one-third of the power of a Bluetooth LE chip when in beacon mode, as a tracking tile would be.)