Everything you need to know about Apple’s CarKey feature CarKey was introduced as part of iOS 14.


Though Apple’s iPhones and Apple Watches have supported NFC technology for a number of years, allowing us to pay for our groceries using our wrist or check-in at the airport, Apple has been slow to introduce additional nearfield communication services. That’s, in part, because of security concerns – put everything from your house keys to your passport onto your phone, and your device becomes even more lucrative.

Great strides have been made in recent years and with a long-rumored Face ID and Touch ID double-up in iPhones expected as soon as 2021, our smartphones are now more secure than ever before. That’s encouraged some governments to place more trust in Apple, as the COVID-19 track and trace API has taught us. In the UK, officials are even experimenting with using NFC to connect passports to iPhones as part of a Brexit app, and last year, Apple brought contactless Student ID cards to iOS, which can be used to enter theaters and pay for food, drink, and books without a credit card.

All of these innovations have lead to a big question: what’s next, and how can we use our devices to further improve our everyday lives? Apple undeniably changed the world with the launch of Apple Pay, with more than 900 million users paying for everything from their weekly food shop to their subway tickets using their iPhones.

The aim was to remove the need for a wallet. Now, Apple wants us to wave goodbye to our car keys.

CarKey allows ‌iPhone‌ and ‌Apple Watch‌ users to unlock, lock, start, and control compatible vehicles from their devices. Though most car manufacturers don’t have NFC functionality by default, the feature is slowly being rolled out amongst new higher-end models, in a similar way to CarPlay over the past five years. Back in 2018, around half of all new vehicles sold in the United States and Europe came with CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities as standard, and that figure is expected to be even higher by the end of 2020. Apple hopes that, in the next few years, CarKey will become synonymous with buying a new car. Right now, CarKey offers users access to all of the same features that a physical key can offer, and keys can be shared and restricted, too.

CarKey works via an NFC-based Digital Key specification designed by the Car Connectivity Consortium and requires users to hold their iPhone or Apple Watch near the reader on the door handle. When the reader detects the digital key, the car will then automatically unlock. To protect users’ privacy, the iPhone will authenticate via Face ID or Touch ID, but there is an Express Mode which removes the need for authentication. Once an iPhone is placed on top of an NFC reader located inside a vehicle, the CarKey setup will begin, and the pairing process will involve inputting a code provided by the manufacturer for added authentication.

Perhaps one of the most exciting features of CarKey is that keys to vehicles can be shared via the Messages app. This is ideal for a whole host of use cases, including sharing a car with a friend or spouse, giving your car to a valet parking attendant, or to a car garage. It is possible to set limitations to CarKey – you can, for example, restrict access or cancel it at any time. Limits can be applied to acceleration, top speed, traction control, and stereo volume, too, ideal if you’re planning to share a CarKey with a teenager or unreliable driver.

Apple’s partnering with automakers around the world, but right now, BMW is the first partner, and all of its models – including 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, X5, X6, X7, X5M, X6M and Z4 – that are manufactured from July 2020 will feature CarKey. The service has already rolled out as part of an iOS 13 update, despite being announced as an iOS 14, and it’s expected in a future release, Apple will offer passive, location-aware keyless access for added convenience.

Are you using CarKey? Let us know and check back soon for more news.

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