At WWDC 2020, Apple announced a new feature for the iPhone related to cars: car keys. Starting this summer with the new BMW 5 Series, customers with compatible cars were able to use their iPhone as the key to both unlock your car and turn it on. You'll even be able to share this digital key with other people and even put restrictions on how they use your car.
Here's what you need to know about digital car keys on iPhone.
Apple occasionally offers updates to iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS as closed developer previews or public betas. While the betas contain new features, they also contain pre-release bugs that can prevent the normal use of your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, or Mac, and are not intended for everyday use on a primary device. That's why we strongly recommend staying away from developer previews unless you need them for software development, and using the public betas with caution. If you depend on your devices, wait for the final release.
Digital car keys?
Yep. Starting with an upcoming release of iOS 13 (presumably iOS 13.6), and continuing with iOS 14 this fall, you'll be able to add a digital key for your car to the Wallet app on your iPhone.
While it will only work with one car at launch, it allows you to unlock and turn on your car without having the physical key that came with your car on you.
Wait, this is coming to iOS 13?
That's what Apple says. In addition to the shiny new beta of iOS 14, Apple is still testing iOS 13.6 with developers and public beta testers, and it should release to customers in a matter of weeks. Presumably, this release or a subsequent 13.6.x update will contain support for car keys in the Wallet app.
This is good because the first car to support this feature, the 2021 BMW 5 Series, is launching this summer.
So just how does a digital key work?
Your digital car key can be added to the Wallet app on your iPhone by following the instructions provided by your car's manufacturer. When its added to Wallet, the key's security information is stored in the Secure Element on your iPhone's system-on-a-chip, just like your debit and credit card information, so it remains secure.
When you want to unlock your car, you just tap your iPhone to your car's door handle like you would an Apple Pay terminal. Cars with this support use NFC to sense a nearby device. When your device is recognized and verified by the car, the doors unlock.
Once you're in the car, you'll place your iPhone on a reader or an included wireless charging pad, which will authorize you to start the car.
Do I need to take my phone out of my pocket or bag?
Right now, that's best. Because digital car keys function using NFC, you need to tap your device to your car door handle in order to unlock it.
But Apple is working on expanding the capabilities of digital car keys in newer iPhones. While he didn't go into too much detail, Craig Federighi confirmed during the WWDC 2020 keynote that Apple was working to employ the U1 chip in iPhone 11 devices to allow customers to leave their phones in their pockets or bags and use ultra-sideband technology to still securely unlock their cars.
What about sharing car keys?
You will absolutely be able to share your digital car keys. Just tap on the key in Wallet, then tap the - button in the upper-right corner of the screen. Tap the Invite button, then choose who you want to invite.
You can give a person unrestricted access to unlock and drive your car, or you can set the shared key to Restricted Driving mode that lets you set restrictions that limit certain capabilities of the car.
Car keys are shared over iMessage and appear as rich content in a message thread with the people you're sharing them with. After you've shared a car key, you can revoke access to it at any time.
What kind of restrictions can you place on a shared car key?
You can set up a restricted car key to limit multiple aspects of driving your car. For instance, you can set acceleration limits, top speed limits, and even traction control. You can also set a maximum volume on the car stereo to ensure minimal distraction.
All this sounds great, but what if my iPhone battery dies?
While battery life is often a concern on iPhones, completely draining your iPhone's battery doesn't necessarily mean that you lose your car key, too. This is because of power reserve, which enables your digital car key to work for up to five hours after your iPhone's battery is drained for normal use.
Are car keys only supported on iPhone?
No! If you have an Apple Watch Series 5, you'll be able to unlock your car with a tap of your wrist, rather than your iPhone.
Additionally, Apple is working with the Car Connectivity Consortium on building out standards for digital car keys. This could theoretically make digital car keys shareable between iOS and Android devices, but that seems like it would be a little ways off.
What devices will support digital car keys?
At launch, the following devices will support car keys in the Wallet app:
- iPhone XR
- iPhone XS
- iPhone XS Max
- iPhone 11
- iPhone 11 Pro
- iPhone 11 Pro Max
- iPhone SE (second generation)
- Apple Watch Series 5
When exactly will digital car keys be available?
Apple hasn't given a precise launch date for digital car keys, only that they'll be available in an update to iOS 13 as well as in iOS 14.
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