You could hardly be blamed for missing this small but interesting tidbit at today’s launch of the Apple Watch Series 6. Quietly – like, literally not a single word said – the Cupertino company has put their U1 ultra-sideband locator chip in their flagship Apple Watch. In fact, the only way you would know it was there is if you read the specs on the Apple site or happened to catch it in the features slide shown during the Apple Event. The team over at the Verge just happened to catch it – barely.
This is not the first time that Apple has slipped their U1 chip into a device. Back in September 2019, they added it to the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro and, like today, did not say anything about it on stage. And, to this point, the locator chip has really not done anything for users other than allow one iPhone to share photos with another iPhone in the same room. Not exactly orbit altering.
The promise of the U1 is this: With devices equipped with it, they could find each other, find other gadgets that have it or similar technology, and could even serve as a way to unlock your car or house without ever having to physically touch your iPhone in your pocket or handbag. It is certainly promising but hasn’t really gone very far to this point.
What exactly Apple plans to do with this technology is not clear and it is possible (likely?) that it will all start to make a bit more sense once Apple AirTags or whatever they are going to be called, are released. Those devices likely will have the same locator chip and suddenly finding tagged items becomes far more interesting.
Oh, and by-the-way, the new U1 is only in the Series 6. It is not in the Apple Watch SE.