The Biggest iPhone News Is a Tiny New Chip Inside It

This week, as they do every year around this time, Apple executives rotated through a few mostly predictable announcements. There are new iPhones with fun camera tricks, a new Apple Watch with an always-on display, and surprisingly affordable gaming and streaming TV subscriptions. But maybe the most significant addition to Apple’s hardware stable didn’t make the stage at all, aside from appearing on a brief background slide.

For the first time, the iPhone 11 and iPhone Pro will include what Apple’s calling a U1 chip. The U1 will enable so-called ultra-wideband positioning powers, giving devices the ability to determine each other’s location when they’re in close proximity. Think of it as Bluetooth on steroids. And while Apple has so far only touted it as a way to improve its AirDrop file-sharing—it’ll give “directionally aware suggestions” as of iOS 13.1, which rolls out later this month—its long-term impact will be far greater.

It’ll take time—and a lot of Apple influence—for the U1 chip to reach its full potential. But its possibilities are nearly endless. Or at the very least, go way beyond AirDrop.

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