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Someone just confirmed an unreleased iPhone accessory while digging through iOS 13 code

Published Sep 20th, 2019 7:31AM EDT
iPhone 11 Specs
Image: Apple

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Apple’s iPhone event last week brought us several announcements. We learned the official prices and launch dates for Apple’s new services Apple arcade and Apple TV+, we saw the brand new iPhone 11, the new affordable 10.2-inch iPad, and the Apple Watch Series 5. But we also expected one more thing from Apple during the event, a device Apple never made before, but one that could be incredibly useful, especially when paired with the iPhone 11 series’ unique and somewhat mysterious feature. However, new discoveries in iOS 13 code indicate that Apple might soon unveil the new product.

All three new iPhones, including iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max, feature a brand new co-processor called U1, which should locate people and objects “more precisely than ever.” The chip uses Ultra Wideband technology, and you can use it for the time being to accurately select the person at the other end of your AirDrop:

Ultra Wideband technology comes to iPhone. The new Apple‑designed U1 chip uses Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness — allowing iPhone 11 to precisely locate other U1‑equipped Apple devices. Think GPS at the scale of your living room. So if you want to share a file with someone using AirDrop, just point your iPhone at theirs and they’ll be first on the list.

Being able to pinpoint the exact person you want to share files within a crowded group of iPhone users can come in handy, but designing a chip just for AirDrop use seems like overkill. Yet Apple hasn’t really explained what other uses the U1 might have.

The product that was absent from the iPhone keynote was the rumored Tile-like Apple Tags device, a tiny gadget you could attach to keys, wallets, and other objects you’d want to be able to find with ease. That’s where the U1 chip could really help, as it would be able to identify with high accuracy the location of a lost or stolen object.

Leaks before the keynote said that Apple was developing its own Tile competitor, and MacRumors has more evidence that Apple is still developing the product:

Image source: Apple via MacRumors

The screenshots above come from an internal iOS 13 build that’s not available to the public. The new Find My app now includes an Items tab, as seen below, which prompts you to “add B389.” That’s the rumored internal codename of the Apple Tags.

B389 will help you never lose your items again. Images spotted in previous iOS 13 builds showed the purported design of the Apple Tags:

Image source: MacRumors

Other code in the internal build of iOS 13 revealed the app will notify users when a tagged object is out of their reach, unless they’re in a Safe Location, like one’s home. The tag can also emit a loud sound to help users locate a missing device, and a 3D ballon might be shown on the screen once the iPhone is within reach of the lost object — here’s where the U1 chip would probably do its ultra wideband magic.

What’s also interesting about the tags is that you could place missing objects in a Lost Mode. Once a different iOS device is within proximity of the lost object, it would notify the owner. If the feature sounds familiar, that’s because it’s all part of the new iOS 13 Find My experience that would let you track devices even if they’re not connected to a wireless network.

It’s still unclear when Apple will launch its tags, but the company is expected to hold a new press event for iPad and Mac at some point next month.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.