How Your iPhone May Soon Replace Your Car Keys

A woman holding an iPhone in front of the steering wheel of a car.Denys Prykhodov /

Imagine using your iPhone or Apple Watch to start your car, eliminating the need to carry a keychain. Apple is working on a “CarKey” feature in the beta version of iOS 13.4, which will allow you to add car keys to the Wallet app.

This feature may also be available on Android phones. Apple is part of the “Car Connectivity Consortium”, which created a digital key standard. In addition to Apple and the automakers, consortium members also include Samsung and LG Electronics.

Standardize what’s already possible

Using your phone to unlock and start your car is not a new idea. It’s not even new technology: you can buy cars that support “digital keys” today.

For example, if you have a Tesla, the Tesla app will allow you to unlock and start your car from your phone. Audi offers its own application that will allow you to unlock your car with your phone. Depending on the manufacturer of your car, the configuration process may be confusing. The system is fragmented and car manufacturers have to develop this functionality for their cars themselves.

Enter the Apple CarKey function, which will implement it in a standardized and easy to configure way. You can even share your car key with someone else using an iPhone.

How CarKey will work

As 9to5Mac points out, the latest beta version of iOS 13.4 refers to a “CarKey” API that automakers can plug in. If your car supports CarKey and has an NFC reader, you can unlock and start your car simply by moving your phone closer to the vehicle. Using near field communication (NFC), no network connection is required.

You will not need to unlock your phone to unlock your default car. But, for added security, you can configure it to require Face ID.

The matching process seems to be simple. You will still need your car manufacturer’s app installed. If it is compatible with CarKey, you can then open the Wallet application and follow the pairing process. You will place the iPhone on the NFC reader of your car. Your car key will be available for use in the Wallet app on your iPhone, and then you can add it to your Apple Watch, if you want.

CarKey also appears to allow you to share your keys with other people. From your wallet, you can share the key with someone else using an iPhone. They will be able to unlock, lock and start your car, and you won’t even have to hand over your key fob.

RELATED: What is NFC (Near Field Communication) and what can I use it for?

When will you get CarKey?

A CarKey functionality in progress seems to be part of iOS 13.4. Apple released the first beta version for developers of this update on February 5, 2020. Based on previous release cycles, we expect to see a stable version of iOS 13.4 over the next few months. Expect before mid-2020.

CarKey may not be part of the latest iOS 13.4 update, of course. If it needs more time in the oven, it should still come through iOS 14, which will be the next major update. Based on Apple’s release schedules, we expect Apple to launch iOS 14 in September 2020.

CarKey will not necessarily require new hardware. If a car has built-in NFC hardware, it should be possible for automakers to update their apps to support CarKey. Apple has not yet officially announced CarKey, but it is possible that many existing cars will benefit from this feature.

Expect an official announcement from CarKey and the automakers that will support it sometime in 2020.

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