At the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple announced that BMW will become the first automaker to allow customers to use their iPhone as a digital car key to unlock/lock, and start their vehicle.
The BMW Digital Key allows the user to tap the door handle with their phone or watch to unlock, place the iPhone in the smartphone charging tray, and then push the start button to get moving.
Setup of the Digital Key can be done through the BMW Smartphone App, with other automakers following suit in similar ways. The car owner can also share access with up to 5 people, including configurable access for young drivers which restricts top speed, horsepower, max radio volume, and more. Management of access can be done from inside the car as well as through the Apple Wallet app.
The “key” will be stored in the Secure Element of the iPhone and accessible through Apple Wallet. It won’t be stored on a remote server somewhere to be hacked. If your device is lost, the key can be deleted remotely using iCloud.
A power reserve feature in the iPhone allows the NFC chip to function for up to five hours after the iPhone dies due to low battery, and if you own an Apple Watch Series 5, that can also act as a digital key.
How the Apple Watch will be required to be placed in the vehicle for starting has yet to be explained.
But all of this will seem cumbersome after Ultra Wideband Technology is implemented next year using the Apple-developed U1 chip. The chip is a more precise short-range radio tech that will allow the iPhone to stay in your pocket, purse, or bag and work much like wireless key fobs work today with push-button start. Currently only the iPhone 11 features the U1 chip.
BMW’s updated 5-series is the first to come equipped with digital key NFC technology, and the 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, X5, X6, X7, X5M, X6M and Z4 manufactured after July 1, 2020 will too.
Other automakers currently part of the Car Connectivity Consortium that Apple is leading to develop the digital key technology include General Motors, FCA, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, Volvo and Volkswagen.
Interestingly, Tesla is not part of the consortium.