BMW to be the first carmaker to support Apple’s new CarKey feature – use your iPhone as a digital car key

Every year, people from around the world tune in to the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) to find out the latest developments from the Cupertino-based company. This year’s edition of the event isn’t without its surprises, and one of them involves using the iPhone or Apple Watch as a fully digital car key for BMW vehicles.

The German carmaker will become the first to enable its customers to use the new feature, which Apple refers to as CarKey (BMW is calling theirs the Digital Key), with the first vehicle to support it being the latest G30 5 Series LCI. Following this, nearly every single model from the 1 Series right on through to the Z4 (with a few exceptions) manufactured after July 1, 2020 will support the feature.

Apple’s CarKey uses NFC technology to allow users to unlock their car by simply holding the device close to an NFC reader on the door handle. You’ll then be asked to authenticate via Face ID or Touch ID before the car unlocks, or you can enable Express Mode to skip biometric authentication altogether for quicker access.

Once inside, you can start the car by placing the iPhone in the smartphone tray, pushing the start button and getting a move on. Setting up CarKey is done through the Wallet app, with additional setup actions performed in BMW’s own smartphone app or referring to instructions listed on the infotainment system.

BMW to be the first carmaker to support Apple’s new CarKey feature – use your iPhone as a digital car key

BMW says you can share access with up to five people with compatible iPhones or Apple Watches via iMessage, with the ability to set parameters like restricting top speed, horsepower, maximum radio volume and more for less experienced drivers.

If you’re concerned what will happen if your iPhone’s battery is depleted, BMW says there is a power reserve feature where the phone will still function as a key for up to five hours after it turns off because of a low battery.

There’s also the matter of security, to which Apple says users can revoke access via iCloud in the event your phone goes missing. The secure hardware in Apple’s devices also ensures that the encryption keys that allow them to communicate with car remain on the physical device itself, so that data is not accessible by anyone, not even Apple.

BMW’s integration with iOS also extends to electric vehicles, as Apple Maps will pick the optimal route based on electric range and the charging station locations along the way, starting with the new i4 launching next year.

BMW to be the first carmaker to support Apple’s new CarKey feature – use your iPhone as a digital car key

Getting into the fine print of things, the following iPhone and Apple Watch devices will work with the BMW Digital Key: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone SE (second generation) and Apple Watch Series 5. BMW Digital Key will require the upcoming iOS 13.6 and WatchOS 6.2.8.

NFC-based digital car keys aren’t something new, as other carmakers already offer them with similar functionality. However, these require separate apps to operate and are not baked into the phone’s operating system, negating some of the advantages from doing so. A built-in feature also makes it easy and convenient to have all your digital keys for multiple cars in one place (iOS in this case).

BMW and Apple have been working on digital car keys for some time, with both being part of the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) that recently released the Digital Key Release 2.0 specification in May this year. The aim is to have a standardised ecosystem for owners to use their own mobile device as their digital key without depending on an active internet connection.

The consortium is currently developing specifications for Digital Key Release 3.0, which leverages on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) in combination with ultra-wideband (UWB). This will offer better anti-theft protection, more precise localisation between the device and the vehicle, as well as improved convenience as you will no longer need to hold your smartphone directly up to the door handle to unlock the car.

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