CarKey was announced at WWDC 2020, but like with any car-focused feature, the rollout has been slow. Vehicles that support the feature allow users to lock, unlock, and start their car using their iPhone. Keys are stored in Apple Wallet, and can be shared with others.
● Built into iOS and watchOS
● Control your car remotely
● Replaces the need for a key fob
● Share your digital key
● Uses BLE, NFC, and UWB
Get Apple News Directly in Your Inbox
AppleInsider is supported by its audience and may earn commission as an Amazon Associate and affiliate partner on qualifying purchases. These affiliate partnerships do not influence our editorial content.
Apple is slowly trying to eliminate everything you carry in your pockets that isn't an iPhone. Apple came first for your wallet with Apple Pay, and it is coming for your car keys too. Introduced in iOS 14, CarKey is an API intended to replace your car's keys with your iPhone completely.
Despite being a key feature of iOS 14 in 2020, car manufacturers have yet to embrace the new technology on a wide scale. Very few vehicles can take advantage of this feature, and there are no known third-party aftermarket kits for older vehicles.
Apple is bringing cryptographic key generation and secure communication protocols to the car. Like Apple Pay, CarKey is being implemented to replace real-world objects with safe and secure digital ones.
A digital key fob
You can already ditch your house key by having a HomeKit lock, but ditching the keyring entirely isn't possible yet. Most cars need a key fob present to be driven, and while Apple has a solution for this, it will take some time to get into most customers' hands.
At WWDC 2020, Apple announced a new API for iOS 14 to build digital car keys, aptly named CarKey. This system requires specific hardware and support from the car manufacturer, and the technology won't be widely supported at launch.
Having a digital key offers plenty of conveniences, and Apple has implemented encrypted digital key sharing to take advantage of the new system. If someone needs to borrow your car, you can send them access to the vehicle via iMessage and deactivate their key when they're done.
Owners of the vehicle will be able to generate restricted keys, as well. Apple has not detailed what a restricted key's capabilities are at this time.
Tokenized access to the car is handled similarly to credit cards stored within Apple Pay wallets. Only the owner's phone and token can access the vehicle or any keys they've shared with others.
Apple announced BMW as its first partner to implement CarKey. The partnership is due to the companies' shared relationship with the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC).
The CCC consists of multiple manufacturers, including Audi, Volkswagen, GM, Hyundai, LG, Panasonic, and Samsung.
In June 2018, the CCC released information about a Digital Key Release 1.0 specification. The solution used NFC to authenticate, unlock, start, and share access to a car.
Other key features
According to some rumors, the CarKey API could also call for storing other digital keys. Keys for HomeKit devices would be a likely choice, thus allowing a similar-key sharing feature without granting a guest total access to HomeKit.
Another benefit of CarKey being in your Apple Wallet is Express Mode. Like using Apple Pay cards with Express Transit, your digital car key will still be usable in power reserve mode if your iPhone battery dies. The power reserve lasts for about five hours.
The CCC later released Digital key Release 3.0, which uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Ultra-Wideband (UWB). Since the latest iPhones have the U1 processor, they can unlock the car without taking the device out of your pocket.