Apple U1 chip: Apple Watch 6 features ultra-wideband technology

Apple’s U1 chips are its new trojan and its likely that we’ll see this Apple-exclusive interpretation of ultra-wideband technology come to most of the maker’s premium devices through 2020 and 2021. U1 chips clearly aren’t cheap for Apple at this stage as they strictly add them to the build-of-materials of their devices with the best margin. Hence, yesterday’s unveiling of new Apple Watch models sees the U1 chip added to the new, premium Apple Watch 6 but not added to the middle-market Apple Watch SE.

That makes Apple Watch 6 the first of Apple’s wearables to feature U1 technology. But to what end? To date, U1 has had lacklustre application and has own powered an enhanced AirDrop use-case. As I penned last year, Apple’s investment in UWB / U1 would never have such a narrow focus.

Apple Watch 6 presents a new application for U1, Apple’s remote automobile entry platform Car Key. Car Key allows compatible vehicle owners to forgo use of car keys and enter their phone with iPhone 11 or Apple Watch 6. The play here is for U1 as a proximity tool and, thus, an added security and usability tool.

With the iPhone 12 launch event expected to take place in October, we should see a further expansion of Apple’s U1 platform with the technology appearing in

  • iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Max. I’d wager that we shan’t see U1 in iPhone 12 Mini / 12mini
  • AirTags

Come November, we’re also likely to see U1 added to new edition AirPods Pro and AirPods Studio. In the latter, expect U1 to power Apple’s virtual surround sound technology, Spatial Audio.

Surround sound used to be a hardware play, but software eats the world. It just needs the right chip to make it happen.