Apple iOS 16 has integrated U1 chip with ARKit

According to the latest report, Apple released iOS 16, and iPadOS 16 systems have released the first developer preview Beta. iOS 16 introduces several new APIs that allow developers to extend the functionality of their apps.

For example, there are new APIs for lock screen widgets, walkie-talkies, interactive maps, weather data, and more. Interestingly, Apple also updated the Nearby Interaction API (nearby interaction) to integrate the U1 chip into ARKit, as Apple is rumored to be launching a new mixed reality MR device.


Introduced in iOS 14, the Nearby Interactions API allows developers to take advantage of the Ultra Wideband U1 chip available in iPhone 11 and later. The U1 chip enables precise positioning and spatial awareness of the device and can be used to detect things like the distance between one iPhone and another.

In iOS 15 and watchOS 8, Apple has extended these capabilities to the Apple Watch, as the Apple Watch Series 6 and later also feature the U1 chip. This year, iOS 16 brings an interesting new option for developers using the Nearby Interaction API, the ability to integrate the U1 chip with augmented reality via ARKit.

As the company detailed at the WWDC22 conference, iOS already uses the U1 chip in conjunction with ARKit to locate AirTags using pinpoint features. Using the data provided by the U1 chip combined with the iPhone’s camera, the Find My app can precisely guide users to their AirTag.

Developers can now also create similar experiences in their apps using the U1 chip and ARKit, which makes information about distance and direction more consistent and accurate. Apple says the best use case for this API is an experience that guides the user to a specific nearby object, such as a misplaced item, an object of interest, or an object the user wants to interact with.

For example, apps can tell users whether the object they’re looking for is in front of or behind them.

U1, ARKit, and Apple AR/VR devices

There have been multiple recent rumors that Apple will release a new mixed reality device sometime in late 2022 or early 2023. Although the product wasn’t announced at WWDC22, the company had a lot to say about AR and VR during the WWDC opening keynote.

For a device expected to have multiple cameras and advanced sensors, including ultra-wideband chips, it’s clearly capable of precise spatial awareness. Although the new device has not been officially announced and there is no SDK, it seems that Apple really wants developers to prepare their apps for this interaction before the MR device is released.

When the company first announced the U1 chip for the iPhone 11, it mentioned that experiences like faster AirDrop were just the beginning. The U1 is now used in wallet apps for functions like car keys and finding AirTags, but the chip is sure to play a big role in Apple’s mixed reality devices.

On a related note, ARKit has also been updated in iOS 16 to include support for 4K HDR video and advanced indoor scanning, a major step toward AR/VR devices.


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