Quiz people on the improvements that found their way onto all four new iPhone 15 models, and you'd have to wait a long time until anyone mentioned the new Ultra Wideband chip. And while it may not have the hype of Apple's switch to USB-C over Lightning or the immediate visual impact of more contoured sides, the presence of an updated UWB chip on the latest iPhones shouldn't be overlooked.
That's because the second-generation Ultra Wideband chip Apple includes on every new model from the entry-level iPhone 15 to the super-premium iPhone 15 Pro Max figures to make it easier to track down people and things — at least if those people and things are also using a new Ultra Wideband chipset.
As a reminder, Ultra Wideband has been a part of Apple's iPhone setup since the chip was included on board the iPhone 11 in 2019. That chip, known as the U1, works with Apple's AirTag key finder to determine the distance and direction to lost items. It also leverages AirDrop to simplify file transfers.
The second generation Ulta Wideband chip is called, appropriately enough, U2. Yes, like the rock band. And if you're old enough to remember the 2014 controversy when Apple uploaded the band's latest album to people's phones without first asking permission, at least this new U2 is going to be something you'll be glad to find on your iPhone.
What the iPhone 15 U2 chip can do for you
The U2 chip figures to bring better precision to the location tracking found in your iPhone's Find My app, particularly for the Find My Friends feature. Apple says the new chip enables something called Precision Finding, which is supposed to help you more easily track down friends you already have included in the Find My app when you're in a crowded space.
I haven't had the chance to use the U2-enhanced Find My, but based on Apple's on-stage iPhone 15 demos, you'll be able to tap on a location that a friend shares with you. Arrows on your iPhone's screen will show you what direction to head in, and the distance will also appear, counting down as you get closer to the right spot.
There's a catch, of course. Both you and your friend will have to be using iPhones with U2 chips for Precision Finding to work. So any friends carrying around an iPhone 14 or earlier — or heaven forbid an Android device — could remain lost in the crowd.
Still, the value of Precision Finding should be apparent, especially if the feature works as advertised. I've gone to public spaces with my family — amusement parks, aquariums, downtown areas — and despite our best efforts, we get separated when someone lags behind or wanders off. Instead of frantic texts back and forth, the Precision Finding feature on a U2-equipped iPhone should let us find each other with a minimum of fuss.
U2 beyond the iPhone
The utility of the U2 chip should become even greater as it finds its way into future iPhones. But it's working its way into other Apple devices, too. The Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 introduced at the same time as the iPhone 15 family both included a second-gen Ultra Wideband chip as part of their new S9 processors.
That brings precision finding to the Apple Watch as well, and it's particularly relevant to the iPhone. My wife's favorite Apple Watch feature is the ability to press a button on her smartwatch and make her iPhone ping from across the room — that's how she remembers where she last left her device.
Apple Watch 9 owners will be able to take it one step further, with the U2 chip on their watches giving them the same on-screen directions that the iPhone 15 now has for finding people. Again, this feature requires an iPhone 15 to work, but presumably it will extend to more devices as the U2 chip becomes more widely used.
The HomePod, also equipped with UWB, gets in on the action, too. Wear an Apple Watch 9 within about a dozen feet of a HomePod playing audio, and Now Playing launches on your watch to let you control playback.
Where Ultra Wideband goes from here
The fact that the U2 chip is bringing new and enhanced capabilities to multiple devices suggests this isn't a flash in the pan for Apple, even if we waited four years in between UWB upgrades. While I claim no special insight, I wouldn't be surprised to see an AirTag update at some point in the next year that delivers some U2-related improvement of its own.
No one's going to argue that a new Ultra Wideband chip is the most significant addition to the iPhone 15 — not when the standard phone gets a much-improved camera and the Dynamic Island feature, while the iPhone 15 Pro sports an all-powerful A17 Pro chipset. But the arrival of the U2 chipset does show that Apple is trying to improve its phones at the margins — not just with the attention-grabbing changes. And sometimes, those additions can extend beyond the iPhone into other Apple products.