Why Apple beats Google in the smartphone ‘radar wars’

The new flagship phones from Apple and Google have amazing cameras.

The public seems shockingly unimpressed. It appears that, despite the importance and centrality of cameras in smartphones, the amazing new cameras are replacing cameras that were also amazing. Better cameras don’t change how we live and work. Everybody’s used to the fact that new smartphones always have better cameras.

Both the iPhone 11 phones and the Pixel 4 line, however, contain something truly new: radar.

Apple goes wide with U1

Apple’s iPhone 11 line of smartphones contains an Apple-designed wireless chip called the U1. The chip enables Ultra Wideband (UWB) location detection range-finding — radar.

[ In case you missed it: Jonny Evans looks at how the iPhone 11’s U1 chip will change everything ]

You’ve seen how this works in the old submarine movies. A radio pulse is sent out in all directions, and the enemy sub’s location is revealed on a giant round green screen because of the direction and timing of the bounce-back.

Apple patents show that the U1 technology (along with other components, such as multiple antennas built into the devices) not only identifies the direction and distance of an object, but also its trajectory, if it happens to be in motion.

But unlike old submarine radar systems, UWB can also transmit data.

As an example of how wide UWB is, Bluetooth uses 2MHz channels and WiFi 20MHz. The U1 uses 500MHz-wide channels. Such wide channels means that any objects between devices won’t affect performance.

Like Bluetooth, the U1 also facilitates data transfer, but the iPhone is supposed to intelligently deploy UWB, Bluetooth or WiFi, depending on which is fastest. While UWB rules for range and direction finding, it’s not as fast as WiFi for data transfer.

The U1 technology will be used initially for frivolous uses, such as finding one’s car keys under the couch cushion (Apple’s rumored “Apple Tags” program, which is a Tile-like…