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Apple’s new U1-enabled Nearby Interactions feature is on its way

Apple’s new U1-enabled Nearby Interactions feature is on its way


Announced at WWDC, the new ‘hands-free’ proximity feature is making its way to a third-party chip manufacturer

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Apple developers got a taste of iOS 16’s new Nearby Interactions feature at WWDC last month that lets third-party smart devices talk to Apple’s ultra-wideband (UWB) U1 chips in the background for “new hands-free user experiences” — making things like activating a light bulb when just walking by it possible. Developers can take advantage of the real-time, precise location triggers with the new framework, and chipset makers can seek MFi certification for interoperability with U1, something that chip manufacturer Qorvo did this week (via MacRumors).

“Our extensive portfolio of UWB chips, modules and software will help accelerate the ecosystem of connected UWB products and accessories,” said Qorvo Mobile products president Eric Creviston in a press release. The company was awarded MFi certification for its DW3110 integrated Impulse Radio UWB wireless transceiver, so now other companies can buy this chip to integrate it into their own accessories and use Apple’s Nearby Interactions.

The U1 chip in certain Apple devices can function as a highly localized GPS locator and currently works with things like finding your keys in the sofa with AirTags, unlocking cars, sharing files via AirDrop by aiming your iPhone at your friends, and handing off a Now Playing song to your HomePod as you Jedi-wave your iPhone over it. The U1 chip is currently integrated into iPhone 11 and newer (though not including the iPhone SE series), Apple Watch Series 6 and newer, AirTags, and the HomePod mini — and notably missing from the Apple TV remote and the iPad Pros.

Apple isn’t the only company doing things with UWB: smart tracker pioneer Tile is working on UWB trackers to combat Apple’s AirTags, as well as Samsung with its Galaxy SmartTags. Tesla is also reportedly looking to integrate UWB into its electric cars, though it’s doubtful the automaker (or any of Apple’s competitors, for that matter) would pursue Nearby Interactions that could maybe Smart Summon your car automatically as you walk out of your private jet (and maybe that’s a good thing).

Apple started allowing other accessory makers to integrate their products into the Find My device locator last year, and now with Nearby Interactions, the ecosystem of smart devices that can do stuff like unlock a door without you pulling your iPhone out will certainly grow. And while you could just get smart home products with varying sensors to trigger lights in spaces, future devices using Nearby Interactions might simplify your connected setup and perhaps decrease unintended triggers since it’ll only work if your U1-enabled device is on you.