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iOS 14 code hints BMW could be first to use Apple's 'CarKey' API, report says

BMW's digital key initiative seeks to create a global standard.

Code snippets purportedly discovered in Apple's next-generation iOS operating system suggest BMW will integrate the tech giant's "CarKey" API, an NFC-based keyless entry system that swaps out physical key fobs for an iPhone.

Without going into detail, 9to5Mac reports "evidence" in a pre-release version of the as-yet-unannounced iOS 14 indicates BMW will be the first automaker to support "CarKey" if and when the initiative launches.

When reached for comment, BMW was unable to confirm its role in Apple's plans. The German carmaker pointed to a December press release outlining its commitment to a global Digital Key standard.

"The BMW Group has therefore been driving the creation of a global standard for digital vehicle access within the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC)," the release reads. "Most well-known smartphone producers and automotive manufacturers have already joined the consortium. Standard specifications across industries will also help include all kinds of smart devices, including phones, watches and other wearables."

Apple, too, is part of the CCC.

In June 2018, the group published information about its Digital Key Release 1.0 specification, an NFC solution that allows authenticated smart devices to lock, unlock, start the engine of and share access to a specific car. A revision to the standard, Digital Key Release 2.0, was announced in October and adds enhanced security protocols by employing dedicated "tamper-resistant" chips in a control device.

The CCC is currently working toward Digital Key Release 3.0, which will tap Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology to deliver passive, location-aware keyless access. Apple's latest products, including iPhone 11, support both BLE and UWB, the latter of which is restricted to precise AirDrop file sharing.

Apple was recently found to be developing its own proprietary digital key technology in "CarKey," an API discovered in an iOS 13.4 beta in February. Not much is known about the system, but it is believed to leverage NFC hardware on iPhone, and potentially Apple Watch, to communicate with a car's onboard computer to unlock, lock and start a vehicle.

The Cupertino tech giant has been investigating digital car key systems for years. In 2018, the company filed a patent application describing methods by which an iPhone can securely control a car's subsystems. More recently, a patent last November detailed a solution that, like the CCC's Digital Key 3.0, integrates Bluetooth and UWB to determine a device's relative location before exchanging cryptographic keys with a target vehicle.