Google has added an Ultra-wideband (UWB) API in Android
Since the early days of smartphones, we have relied on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless technology for our short-range connectivity needs. Ultra-wideband (UWB) is widely regarded as the next big thing in the world of wireless technology, promising to offer highly precise indoor positioning of smart home devices and high-speed peer-to-peer data transmission. Apple’s iPhone 11 was the first modern smartphone to support UWB tech. Samsung followed suit with the Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra, becoming the first Android OEM to incorporate the new technology. Xiaomi has also announced plans to get onboard with UWB technology, demonstrating how it aims to utilize the technology to control its smart home ecosystem. As more smartphones are expected to embrace this new wireless protocol in the coming days, Google is adding a new API in AOSP to better support UWB technology on future Android smartphones.
With the introduction of an official Android API, developers will be able to create apps that work seamlessly across different Android smartphones with UWB hardware — rather than using different sets of APIs from different OEMs.
Google has merged multiple commits to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) that add an Ultra-wideband (UWB) API. The UwbManager class, for instance, “provides a way to perform UWB operations such as querying the device’s capabilities and determining the distance and angle between the local device and remote device.” The API implementation follows IEEE’s 802.15.4z standard for low-rate wireless networks.
A word of caution: This API is still a work-in-progress, and there’s no guarantee it’ll be ready in time for Android 12. And just because this API is being added to Android doesn’t mean the next Pixel will come equipped with UWB hardware.
As already mentioned, the only Android device right now to have Ultra-wideband (UWB) hardware is the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra, and the only app to use this hardware is Samsung’s SmartThings app for the SmartThings Find feature.
UWB is still in its infancy, and although it promises great possibilities, its real-world usefulness and applications are yet to be fully realized.
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Update 1: Merged as System API
In a commit merged late last week, Google marked Android’s ultra-wideband APIs as SystemAPIs. SystemAPIs are not accessible to third-party apps linking against the Android SDK. Thus, these APIs will be inaccessible to third-party apps. It’s unclear why these APIs are being limited to system applications, but it’s possible that Google doesn’t feel the APIs are ready for public use just yet. Google did something similar with RCS APIs, which are still not available for third-party messaging apps.