Future Macs could get a big connectivity upgrade

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review unit on a table
(Image credit: Future)

MacOS Monterey promises a whole heap of useful new features including Universal Control, secure notes in Safari and the ability to highlight text from images, but 9to5Mac has also found a possible future hardware hint buried in the code. 

The site reports that the latest beta version contains the frameworks and daemons required for ultra-wideband (UWB) technology — “the same tools already used to provide UWB support on iOS devices with the U1 chip.”

Ultra-wideband is a short-range wireless communications protocol that lets devices talk to each other. While that sounds a lot like Bluetooth, the big advantage is that it offers spatial awareness, allowing two devices to locate each other far more precisely. 

UWB has been part of Apple’s roadmap for hardware since 2019 when the U1 chip was added to the iPhone 11. “It’s like adding another sense to iPhone, and it’s going to lead to amazing new capabilities,” Apple said at the time.

Anybody buying the iPhone 11 purely for the U1 chip would be disappointed, as it didn’t really come into its own until Apple released its Tile-like AirTag trackers last year. While location tracking tags for items are nothing new, the introduction of UWB makes finding the exact location of lost items a lot more precise than the vague approximation of Bluetooth, which has made AirTags a quiet success.

Given that Apple has now added the U1 chip to three generations of iPhone, the Apple Watch and HomePods, it does feel like this is the general direction of travel for the company, and the benefits extend beyond tracking lost items. It’s used to improve AirDrop speeds, allowing quick hand-off between iPhone and HomePods and making CarKey smoother.

UWB on Macs could certainly take advantage of some of these — and make the Find My network stronger — but it’s worth noting that it’s not a sure thing, given some of the high-profile products Apple has released without the U1 chip in recent years. No iPad — not even the latest M1 powered models — features UWB, and nor does the super expensive AirPods Max

Still, at the very least it does appear that Apple is continuing to experiment with UWB technology, which is good news for those with supported hardware — even people still using their iPhone 11.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.