Car Key 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 cars using their iPhones. 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
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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, Car Key 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.
Car Key features
Apple is bringing cryptographic key generation and secure communication protocols to the car. Like Apple Pay, Car Key was 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 without a lot of expense. Most cars need a key fob present to be driven, and while Apple has a solution for this with Car Key, 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 Car Key. This system requires specific hardware and support from the car manufacturer, and the technology still hasn't been widely adopted.
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.
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 Car Key. 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.
Manufacturers offering Apple Car Key
The list of manufacturers with a digital key system available is small but growing.
Car Keys Tests
Apple released a developer-focused app for testing Car Key in manufacturers' vehicles in February 2023. It is only useful for developers with MFi account credentials.
The app arrived three years after the feature debuted. It isn't clear how manufacturers tested the feature before, but it likely involved a Mac connected by a cable running proprietary software or some kind of direct help from Apple.
This bare-bones app is meant to enable vehicle manufacturers to test, validate, and troubleshoot the Car Key feature. It shows steps for developers to take to ensure the Car Key software operates as expected.
Car Key Technology
The CCC 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 a user's pocket.