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What is ultra-wideband on the iPhone 11 – and will it come to the Galaxy S20?

Ultra-wideband (UWB) is a type of technology that allows for fast, short-range exchanges of information. Apple incorporated the technology onto its iPhone 11 chip, allowing speedy communication between devices, and there are rumours that UWB is coming to other smartphones. 

What is ultra-wideband on the iPhone 11?

When Apple first announced the UWB feature back in September, it said that the technology would be used for “spatial awareness – allowing iPhone 11 to precisely locate other U1‑equipped Apple devices”. The company explained that it works a bit like GPS, but on a much smaller scale. UWB-enabled devices should be able to find other UWB-enabled devices and pinpoint them with precision.

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This means that iPhone 11 users can easily share files with other UWB-enabled phones by placing the handsets together – UWB will detect which phone is nearest and transfer files to it accordingly. There are rumours that Apple may eventually even make a Tile-like device using this functionality.

In typical Apple fashion the current setup is rather restrictive. Smoosh your phone next to a Huawei model and the UWB isn’t going to do anything for you. But the good news is that UWB may well be arriving on other handsets soon.

According to MacRumors, a new research note from Barclays analysts predicts that the first UWB-equipped Android phones will be with us by the end of 2020.

Specifically, the analysts believe that the phones will sport one of the new UWB-ready chips from Dutch chipmaker NXP. Samsung joined NXP at a UWB consortium last year, so it seems the most likely candidate to produce a UWB-friendly product in the future. The Samsung Galaxy S20, maybe?

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In a September press release, NXP talked about the potential uses for its USB-enabled chips, which included opening connected doors in the home and on cars.

Other potential uses include improved smart-home connectivity, with “lights, audio speakers, and any other connected device…able to follow users from one room to another”.