MacRumors recently discovered that Apple is developing a new "CarKey" feature that allows an iPhone or Apple Watch to unlock, lock, and start an NFC-compatible vehicle. Just like with credit cards and boarding passes, users can add a digital car key to the wallet app, eliminating the need for a physical car key or key fob.
With CarKey, users can approach their vehicle and keep iPhone or Apple Watch near an NFC reader in the vehicle, authenticate themselves with Face ID and have the vehicle automatically unlocked. Similar to Apple Pay for transit turnstiles, Express Mode would be an option that doesn't require authentication with Face ID or a passcode.
Earlier this week screenshots of the CarKey interface appeared on Twitter that were made available to us. Our first look at the upcoming feature.
As expected, a digital car key is displayed as a card in the wallet app. Tapping the map displays information such as the car model, the issuing automaker, a toggle switch for express mode, and the option to share a car key with other users. When sharing a car key, the primary user can provide other three levels of access, including the ability to only unlock the trunk, unlock the vehicle, or unlock and drive the vehicle.
MacRumors found that users can share CarKeys using the Messages app. Shared access to CarKeys can be permanent for trustworthy people like a family member or friend, or temporary for someone like a valet driver.
Apple appears to be working with automakers on this initiative, suggesting that CarKey could be introduced in a similar way to CarPlay. Based on the screenshots above and the iOS code strings seen by MacRumors, it is likely that the luxury car brand BMW will be one of the first automakers to support this feature, as 9to5Mac mentioned earlier.
BMW teased the future of the digital key in a press release from last year:
It is already possible today to lock and unlock the vehicle with the BMW Digital Key as part of BMW Connected on the smartphone, the engine start and share the key with others. However, this is only the first step in a global technological change that is being designed and managed by the BMW Group.
Apple is a member of the Car Connectivity Consortium, which recently announced an NFC-based Digital Key 2.0 specification. The consortium said this specification establishes a secure connection between mobile devices and vehicles using NFC, even if the battery has one compatible device is weak.
Next, the consortium is developing a Digital Key 3.0 specification based on both Bluetooth LE and Ultra Wideband to enable passive, location-based keyless access. This way, you can leave your iPhone in your pocket or backpack when you access or start your vehicle. iPhone 11 models are equipped with an Apple-designed U1 chip with ultra-broadband support, so Apple can offer this functionality.
It is unclear when Apple plans to make CarKey public. The feature is not enabled in iOS 13.4 released earlier this week. CarKey could be introduced in a future update to iOS 13 or held until iOS 14, which should be previewed in June.