Apple developers got a taste of iOS 16’s new Nearby Interactions feature, which allows third-party smart devices to talk to Apple’s ultra-wideband (UWB) U1 chips in the background for “new hands-free user experiences,” such as turning on a light bulb simply by walking by it. Developers can use the new framework’s real-time, precise location triggers, and chipmakers can seek MFi certification for interoperability with U1.
The U1 chip in certain Apple devices can function as a highly localized GPS locator and is currently used for things like finding your keys in the sofa with AirTags, unlocking cars, sharing files via AirDrop by aiming your iPhone at your friends, and transferring a Now Playing song to your HomePod by Jedi-waving your iPhone over it. The U1 chip is currently integrated into iPhone 11 and newer (but not the iPhone SE series), Apple Watch Series 6 and newer, AirTags, and the HomePod mini but not the Apple TV remote or the iPad Pros.
Apple isn’t the only company experimenting with UWB: smart tracker pioneer Tile is developing UWB trackers to compete with Apple’s AirTags, as well as Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTags. Tesla is also reportedly looking to incorporate UWB into its electric vehicles, though it’s unlikely the automaker (or any of Apple’s competitors) would pursue Nearby Interactions that could possibly Smart Summon your car automatically as you walk out of your private jet (and maybe that’s a good thing).
Apple began allowing other accessory makers to integrate their products into the Find My device locator, and with Nearby Interactions, the ecosystem of smart devices that can do things like unlock a door without you having to pull out your iPhone will undoubtedly grow. While you could simply get smart home products with different sensors to trigger lights in different spaces, future devices that use Nearby Interactions may simplify your connected setup and possibly reduce unintended triggers because it will only work if your U1-enabled device is on you.