What is Ultra Wideband: AirTags, Apple Wallet, Car key & more - PhoneArena

What is Ultra Wideband: AirTags, Apple Wallet, Car key & more

What is Ultra Wideband and how it takes Bluetooth to the next level
Whether you’ve just unboxed your AirTag, which literally has the words “Ultra Wideband” written on it, or you’re simply curious about the Wallet key magic introduced with iOS 15, how it works, and what potential use cases it might have in the future, we’ll walk you through it!

The first time we saw Ultra Wideband tech used on a mainstream device was back in 2019 when Apple used it for its iPhone 11 series. At the time, the U1 chip (that enables the tech) was very under-utilized. It improved AirDrop - an update that came with iOS 13, but it was sort of left hanging afterward. Until now!

What is Ultra Wideband (UWB)

Firstly, the ultra-wideband (UWB) is used to boost your device's space awareness - whether that's an iPhone or not. It's like an "extra sense" that your device can use to precisely locate and communicate with other devices via low range and radio signals. The catch is that the device on the other end of this connection also needs UWB support to make it all work.

UWB tech is found on other devices like the Galaxy S21+ (not the S21), and Galaxy S21 Ultra, and it has a similar purpose to that of the iPhone - data transfer and tracking (via SmartTag). The key factor is that UWB has a higher range, higher data speeds, and lower latency than Bluetooth or NFC (just in case you were wondering).

Devices that currently utilize UWB:

  • iPhone 11, 12, or newer, for data (file) sharing (via AirDrop), tracking your lost iPhone, Car keys, Home keys
  • AirTag for Precision Finding (requires UWB-enabled iPhone)
  • Apple Watch Series 6 or newer for Apple CarKey (to use Apple Watch to unlock a car)
  • Galaxy S21+/Ultra for data (file) transfer via Nearby Share
  • Galaxy Smart Tag+ (not the regular Smart Tag) for precise tracking

Note: Apple Car Key is also available on iPhone XR & XS models, which don't support the UWB chip. However, UWB will make unlocking your Apple Car Key experience more secure, accurate, and "hands-free". Of course, in order for that to happen, car-makers need to get on board.

As of now, only some BMW models, released in the second half of 2020, support Apple Car Key, while none support UWB just yet. This is said to change with a future iOS 15 update that promises to bring Apple Hotel key, Office key, ID in Wallet, and boarding passes via Archived passes.

The potential future applications of UWB are promising:

  • Digital keys: in cars for unlocking, starting, and key sharing; your home, garage, or other
  • Digital keys for your house, garage door or other
  • Tracking - with virtually any device like an electric scooter or a pair of headphones via Apple's Find My app, which is now open for third-party companies
  • Social distancing alerts - UWB has the ability to alert (for example) employees at a company when they get too close to each other
  • Workforce management

Challenges & Verdict

So, it's safe to say that the potential UWB has is vast. Whether it's corporate environments or for personal use, the tech will unlock some futuristic capabilities.

Then again, it’s also fair to assume that it’ll bring a ton of challenges. Nothing is perfect. UWB would be able to unlock your door for you, but will it carry safety risks? We’ll only be able to tell when the tech becomes more widely available and tested.

Furthermore, the use of UWB tech in corporate environments to track employees’ location and productivity sounds like a great opportunity for bosses to maximize productivity. However, it raises humanitarian and social-cultural concerns - should your boss be able to see where you are at all times, are we becoming robots, etc.

Still, it’s interesting to see where UWB goes from here. Apple’s on the way to introduce a bunch of new UWB features with the next iOS 15 update.

We are expecting to see Apple Hotel key, Office key, ID in Wallet, and boarding passes via Archived passes, which will eliminate the need for carrying a bunch of items like keys and identification documents.

We hope UWB tech will be utilized for all the good reasons, and let us be more human rather than “robot”.
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