In September 2019, Apple added a new feature to the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro without saying a single word on stage – again today with the Apple Watch Series 6.
The feature is Apple’s U1 ultra-broadband tracking chip, which allows these devices to find each other, find other devices with similar technology, and even safely unlock your car and door without ever pulling an iPhone out of your pocket.
The feature flashed for a brief moment during today’s presentation and buried itself in this slide that we just managed to screencap:
If we look at the official Apple Watch specs comparison page, we can see that it does just the $ 399 Series 6 that gets the U1 chip, not the new Apple Watch SE. It is also not included in the Series 5 and was also missing from the announcement of the iPhone SE 2020.
It’s not clear when Apple will actually do anything useful with this functionality, which is why the company probably hasn’t made a big deal of it yet. Apple hopes to add it to its digital car key idea in the not too distant future, and it is part of a consortium that is driving this technology forward. It’s not clear if automakers are on board, however: the first iteration of the Digital Key idea involves connecting a device equipped with NFC to your car.
It could also help Apple come up with a powerful way to find lost items. Apple recently offered an olive branch to companies selling GPS and Bluetooth-based trackers by offering to extend the Find My network to their devices. It has long been rumored that they are working on an “AirTag” device that you could use like any other accurate tile tracker. You would stick it on an object or toss it in your pocket and your U1 device could theoretically show you exactly where your remote control, wallet, keys or laptop bag is hiding.
So far, however, the U1 has been ridiculously limited to sharing photos with another iPhone user in the same room. We hope that Apple will at least let your iPhone and watch find each other soon.