Apple's new trojan: U1 chip is for more than just AirDrop.

"Apple has always been great at creating multi-purpose products. A lot of them have been trojan products; one thing today, another, even more advanced thing a year later when its new OS is released."

Trojan horses are not just the means by which Greeks can conquer Anatolians, they’re also the means by which tech companies can build ecosystems. I penned the above paragraph when highlighting how many an Apple consumer had already purchased a HomeKit hub without having ever intended to do so — through software updates for iPads and Apple TVs, the company was extending existing devices people owned to serve as a gateway and hub for home automation. In this week’s unveiling of the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, we see Apple laying the foundation for a further extension of its ecosystem. And further consumer lock-in into that ecosystem.

Apple’s U1 Chip was announced in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion. No grand exploration of the new technology was offered during the keynote, just a short reference to new phones containing an “Apple-designed U1 chip.” It’s on Apple’s own website that we learn more about U1 and what (they claim) it is for;

Ultra Wideband technology comes to iPhone.

The new Apple‑designed U1 chip uses Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness — allowing iPhone 11 to precisely locate other U1‑equipped Apple devices. Think GPS at the scale of your living room. So if you want to share a file with someone using AirDrop, just point your iPhone at theirs and they’ll be first on the list.

Can you be more precise? Yes.

The new Apple‑designed U1 chip uses Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness — allowing iPhone 11 Pro to precisely locate other U1‑equipped Apple devices. It’s like adding another sense to iPhone, and it’s going to lead to amazing new capabilities.

With U1 and iOS 13, you can point your iPhone toward someone else’s, and AirDrop will prioritize that device so you can share files faster.

And that’s just the beginning.

Ultra-wideband technology, a serious R&D investment, custom silicon design, and all for directional AirDrop. Hardly. This is Apple laying a longterm foundation whereby U1 (and its U2, and upwards, successors) chips will feature in most of their future devices.

Consider what ultra-wideband technology really is: a low-power method by which to understand and assay spaces. With its applications in ‘see-through-the-wall’ radar-imaging technology, precise locating and tracking, and precise time-till-location calculations we can make some assumptions about where Apple’s ecosystem and Tim Cook’s lock-in focus will utilise U1.

Dedicated device tracker product

Apple has been known to Sherlock apps, whereby it incorporates some, or all, the features of indie-developer product natively within iOS. U1 will enable Apple to Sherlock entire device tracking ecosystems and wrap it within their own. No stranger to this space given their ill-fated iBeacon play, U1 ought to signal a death knell for Tile and their ilk. Instead of a Tile, we’re likely to soon be able to buy into an Apple successor to iBeacons (don’t expect the i prefix nor use of the word beacon). And where Tile have struggle to build an ecosystem that allows for devices to be located with great accuracy, expect Apple to piggyback their existing Find my iPhone technology and relay U1 communications anonymously and securely through all iPhone 11s everywhere giving Apple an instant and global network effect for their Tile play. Of course, that instant network can only be developed sometime after there are enough Apple U1 chips in the wild, so you can imagine that an Apple device tracker won’t be released for 12 to 24 months yet.

Apple Watch

Putting a U1 chip upon people’s arms would work to the benefit of a device tracking network. But it can enhance other areas of the Apple ecosystem as well. With some bias, I posit that a U1 equipped Apple Watch would serve as a perfect tool by which to determine presence location for HomeKit.

Future iPhones

Given they are in the iPhone 11, it goes without saying that future iPhones will feature U1 chip. The outlier may be entry-level iPhones such as the SE model. These are low-cost plays for Apple and the cost of U1 may make its inclusion in a low-cost iPhone prohibitive.

Future AirPods

U1 chips within future AirPods won’t extend the Apple ecosystem, but they’ll certain enhance the appeal of it and further consumer lock-in.

Apple TV remote control

Remote controls oft get misplaced in a home. A U1 chip is a simple solution, mayhap too expensive for it though.

API, LocationKit, and chip sales

Apple seldom open up access to new APIs in the first years of the existence, but the Apple ecosystem would benefit from controlled-access to U1’s technology as developers would bring about a multiplier effect. Thus, expect something akin to a LocationKit and developer access to the core technology and potentially to U1 successor chips as part of MFI certification. If Apple doesn’t offer presence detection within HomeKit natively, developers certainly will. And then Apple shall certainly Sherlock them.

Apple glasses

They won’t be cheap and people are prone to losing their glasses. Precise location awareness thus becomes mandatory on Apple glasses. The radar aspect of ultrawide-band technology could also be employed to help Apple glasses interpret their environment and user interaction.


Its sales outstripped by cheaper offers from Amazon and Google, it’s prescient to assume that we will one day see a HomePod Mini. We’ll also see a successor HomePod itself. Whether or not the U1 chip features in either HomePod or HomePod Mini will tell us just how important in-home presence detection is to Apple’s ecosystem. I suspect they see far less money in HomeKit than they do in the likes of Apple glasses, health, and other new wearables.


See AppleWatch, LocationKit, and HomePod above.