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UWB is still under-utilized on Android, but there's a bit of hope

Apple has embraced this cool tech in many of its products and features. Google didn't.

Published onJune 8, 2024

Ultra wideband UWB toggle
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

It’s been nearly four years since Samsung shipped the first Android phone with an ultra-wideband chip — or UWB for short. Since then, Samsung has included UWB in eight other phone series, including flagships from the Galaxy S21, S22, S23, and S24 line-up, as well as the Z Fold 2, 3, 4, and 5. Google has also followed suit with the Pro models of its Pixel 6, 7, and 8, plus the Fold and Tablet.

Yet, here we are, with basically nothing to show for the tech. UWB enables secure keyless entry in some high-end cars and is also used by Samsung to better locate a lost Galaxy SmartTag 2 near you. That’s everything you can use UWB for right now. The chip is also supposed to power the quick music casting from your Pixel phone to your Pixel Tablet, but that feature hasn’t yet rolled out despite being teased for months.

chipolo bluetooth trackers one card point spot apple google
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

Even the new Android-wide Find My Device compatible Bluetooth trackers from Chipolo and Pebblebee don’t have UWB. And it looks like eufy’s upcoming trackers won’t offer UWB either. We don’t know much about the teased Jio and Motorola trackers yet, nor do we know if Google’s own leaked “grogu” Nest Locator Tag will have it… if that tag ever sees the light of day.

That leaves UWB on Android today pretty much where it was a year or even two years ago — far under-utilized and well behind Apple and its use cases for the tech. There is hope, though, as we have discovered in an APK teardown of Google’s Find My Device app that UWB support is coming so we might be able to use it to detect phones and/or missing tags nearby.

UWB powers several cool features in Apple's ecosystem, but the only time I saw it in action on Android was with Samsung's tracker.

On the other side of the ecosystem divide, though, Apple users can benefit from UWB across a wide range of devices. UWB powers precise location finding for all AirTags and other devices in Apple’s Find My network; it is used for spatial awareness during handoff when transferring music from an iPhone to a HomePod or HomePod Mini; and it improves AirDrop’s accuracy by pointing your phone to the device you want to transfer something to. Yes, it’s used for Digital car key access to high-end cars, too, but that doesn’t really affect most of the population. The other use cases do and are much more widely adopted.

In comparison, and for now, the only time I see UWB in action on Android is when I try to locate my Galaxy SmartTag 2. It works really well there and is a bit like magic. Go left, go right, stop, down, there. If you can’t ring the tracker for some reason — you’re hard of hearing, you don’t want to make noise at night or in a public place — it’s a fantastic extra trick. And that’s what leaves me a little annoyed that Google is still trying to figure out more ways to make use of this tech and push it to more phones. One brand with one product doesn’t scream “amazing new tech” to me.

I had expected UWB to be a default requirement on all Find My Device trackers (especially given how delayed they were!), but that is definitely not the case so far. At this point, we have to wait until the Find My Device app and upcoming tags add support for UWB.

I hope to see more UWB magic soon on Android phones — not just Pixels and Samsungs. The nearby music casting would be a good start, as would its utilization in Bluetooth trackers. Perhaps we need Xiaomi, OnePlus, vivo, and other brands to jump on the bandwagon too. I’m sure they’ll figure out use cases we haven’t even considered yet.

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