Apple’s Upcoming ‘CarKey’ Feature Will Let You Send Digital Keys Using Messages App

As discovered in the first beta of iOS 13.4, Apple is working on a new "CarKey" feature that will allow an iPhone or an Apple Watch to unlock, lock, and start NFC-compatible vehicles.


CarKey "keys" live in the Wallet app and as we found in the first beta, can be shared with other people so you can allow others temporary access to your car. In the second beta of iOS 13.4, there's updated wording concerning sharing, which makes it clear that digital car keys will be able to be sent to people using the Messages app.

CarKey keys will be able to be shared with people in individual conversations but not in group conversations. From iOS 13.4 beta 2:
CarKey is not available in group conversations. You can send CarKey in conversations with an individual.
Sharing a CarKey with someone will allow that person to use their ‌iPhone‌ or ‌Apple Watch‌ to access a compatible car by holding the device near an NFC reader located inside of the vehicle. Keys can be permanent (for a spouse) or temporary (for a valet driver or mechanic).

People who receive a digital key over the Messages app will see text letting them know how it works.
[Vehicle Owner] invited you to use their [Vehicle Model] with unlock & drive access. This allows you to use your ‌iPhone‌ and ‌Apple Watch‌ to unlock/lock the car, start the engine and drive.
CarKey access, like Apple Pay and Apple Cash, is authenticated biometrically using Face ID or Touch ID to make sure the person holding the ‌iPhone‌ is the person with permission to access a car, though there is an "Express Mode: that would presumably work without the need for authentication.

Apple will be partnering with vehicle manufacturers for CarKey, which indicates that it may be a factory installed option much like CarPlay. CarKey requires a vehicle with NFC, so it is something that vehicle manufacturers will need to implement as ‌CarPlay‌ was.

Apple is a member of the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), which has developed an NFC-based Digital Key 2.0 specification made available at the end of 2019. The new specification establishes a secure connection between mobile devices and vehicles over NFC.

The CCC is also working on a Digital Key 3.0 specification based on Bluetooth Le and Ultra Wideband, enabling passive location-aware keyless access. Apple's iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max support Ultra Wideband, so this is CarKey functionality we could see in the future.

There is no word yet on when CarKey will be announced by Apple or when it will start rolling out to new vehicles, but a launch could come with the public release of iOS 13.4.

With Apple rumored to be holding an event on March 31, the CarKey announcement could be made at the event as we expect iOS 13.4's release to coincide with the debut of new devices.

Related Roundups: iOS 13, iPadOS

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iOS 13.4 Beta Reveals ‘CarKey’ Feature That Would Turn Your iPhone or Apple Watch Into a Car Key

Apple yesterday seeded the first beta of iOS 13.4 with several new features, such as iCloud folder sharing, new Memoji stickers, and a redesigned Mail toolbar. While not mentioned in the release notes, the update also includes early signs of an interesting feature that would turn an iPhone or Apple Watch into a car key.

As first reported by 9to5Mac, and confirmed by MacRumors contributor Steve Moser, the iOS 13.4 beta contains strings of code that reference an unreleased "CarKey" framework that would enable an iPhone or Apple Watch to lock or unlock compatible vehicles and start the engine to drive.


The code indicates that "CarKey" would essentially be a digital car key stored in the Wallet app. This would allow you to approach your vehicle, hold your iPhone or Apple Watch near an NFC reader in the vehicle, authenticate with Face ID, and have the vehicle unlock automatically. Similar to Apple Pay for transit, Express Mode would be an option, eliminating the need to authenticate.
To use CarKey, hold iPhone or Apple Watch to reader. It will work automatically, without requiring Face ID. You can change express mode settings in Wallet.
For initial setup of CarKey, you will need to place your iPhone on top of the NFC reader in your vehicle, according to the strings. Apple says the process may take several minutes to complete. Then, you will need to enter a pairing code provided by your local dealership, or connect using your vehicle brand's app.
Place this iPhone on top of the NFC reader in your car. Pairing process may take several minutes, do not remove it from the reader until pairing is done.
Enter the CarKey code provided by your car dealer or connect using the [Vehicle Brand's] app.
Conveniently, it will be possible to share a CarKey with others, giving them full or restricted unlocking and driving capabilities.
[Vehicle Owner] invited you to use their [Vehicle Model] with unlock & drive access. This allows you to use your iPhone and Apple Watch to unlock/lock the car, start the engine and drive.
Apple would be partnering with automakers on this initiative, suggesting that CarKey could become a factory-installed option like CarPlay. The feature would require an NFC-enabled vehicle, so it would likely be limited to newer models. It is unclear when CarKey may begin rolling out, but perhaps it is planned for the public release of iOS 13.4 within the next few months.

Notably, Apple is a member of the Car Connectivity Consortium, or CCC, which recently announced a new NFC-based Digital Key 2.0 specification that it said would be made available by the end of 2019. The CCC said this specification establishes a secure connection between mobile devices and vehicles using NFC, which continues to operate even when a compatible device's battery is low.

Next, the consortium is developing a Digital Key 3.0 specification based on both Bluetooth LE and Ultra Wideband to enable passive, location-aware keyless access. This would allow you to leave your iPhone in your pocket or backpack when accessing or starting your vehicle. Apple added Ultra Wideband support to its iPhone 11 lineup and promised it would lead to "amazing new capabilities."

The above evidence coupled with related patents is quite compelling evidence that Apple has big plans for digital car keys.

Related Roundups: iOS 13, iPadOS

This article, "iOS 13.4 Beta Reveals 'CarKey' Feature That Would Turn Your iPhone or Apple Watch Into a Car Key" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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