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This year, Apple’s traditional September event saw the launch of 3 new iPhones: iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. Criticized by some and praised by others, this year’s lineup undeniably packs some innovative and some long-expected features that are worth the attention. The triple camera module, bigger battery life, machine-learning-powered processor and many other cool features, including a new U1 chip. Hold on a second, a new U1 chip? What even is that? Never heard of it before? Don’t blame yourself for that – you’re not the only one. For some reason, the new U1 chip got very little attention in this year’s keynote. Let’s fix that and explore what the new U1 chip brings to the table.
New Possibilities granted by the U1 chip
First, let’s take a look at the chip itself:
Source: iFixit. “Apple’s U1 module nestled next to the A13 processor in the iPhone 11 Pro Max”
According to The Verge, the “U” in U1 stands for “Ultra-Wideband”, which is a short-range, high-bandwidth, low-energy radio technology that allows for fast and accurate wireless communication. Similar to Bluetooth, but much better. Especially, in the location tracking and spatial awareness departments.
For starters, Apple is using U1 to improve the existing AirDrop feature. According to Apple, the new chip will allow iPhone 11 to “understand its precise location relative to other nearby U1-equipped Apple devices”. Furthermore, users will be able to simply point the device at a fellow Apple-user and share files via the new AirDrop. Furthermore, Apple explicitly states that AirDrop is just the beginning.
Experts at iFixit speculate that the U1 chip will be later used by the Apple’s long-rumored “Apple Tag”. The Tag is believed to be a completely new line of products soon to be released by Apple. Basically, they are tiny devices for tracking your belongings like wallets and keys. Apple’s less know iBeacon could also benefit from the new U1 chip. As well as Apple’s automotive projects but i’ll leave that up you to explore – read more about iBeacon and other potential U1 use-cases in this article.
So far so good. But as usual – there’s a catch. These days, whenever we hear the word “location” bundled together with words like “tracking” and “accurate” – there’s one thing that will inevitably pop up in your head. And that’s privacy. What about privacy?
And that’s a perfectly valid question. As reported by arstechnica, Brian Krebs posted a story where he claims that the newest iPhones check the user’s location even if the location services are disabled. Now that doesn’t sound good at all. To be fair to Apple, the evidence for this is not concrete and this location issue is still being investigated and discussed. According to Apple’s statement, in this particular case, they use location services only for a small, very specific task and the location data use happens entirely on the device itself. I encourage you to read astechnica’s article and this article by TechCrunch.
Personally, I believe that the U1 chip situation is similar to almost every other new piece of technology. While being disruptive and bringing the potential for great features for us – the user, it also raises certain concerns. So how should one feel about the new U1 chip?
Well, I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Now that I’ve introduced you to this topic, I encourage you to do your own reading and form your own opinion.
Check out the references down below, as well as contextual hyperlinks in the article itself.
As always, check your sources🤓 and…see you around!