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It’s a big day for Apple Wallet today. First, Apple announced that folks in Arizona would be the first to get access to its long-awaited Digital IDs, and now it looks like Apple’s Digital Car Keys are finally expanding outside the walls of BMW.
For those who may not recall the details, Apple debuted Car Key nearly two years ago with the release of iOS 13.6. It was an exciting concept that Apple had been working on for years, but the execution was more disappointing.
First, the only people able to take advantage of Car Key were owners of select new BMW vehicles. While the list of supported cars was pretty extensive, you still had to be buying a new 2021 BMW for the feature to matter.
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Then there was the fact that, for most BMW owners, Car Key didn’t do much of anything that they couldn’t already accomplish with their standard wireless key fobs. Car Key was almost a step backward in some ways.
For instance, many higher-end modern vehicles — not just BMWs — can be opened simply by pressing a button on the door while the key fob is in your pocket. Likewise, starting the car requires merely pressing a button while the key fob is inside the vehicle.
By contrast, the original implementation of Apple’s Car Key used Near-Field Communication (NFC). That’s the same technology that powers Apple Pay, and it worked in much the same way — you had to pull out your iPhone and hold it near your car door to unlock your car. Further, starting your vehicle required you to place the iPhone in a specific location on the console so that it could be authenticated.
BMW promised to improve this with Digital Key Plus, an implementation that will use Ultra Wideband (UWB) to communicate with your iPhone or Apple Watch, thereby making the experience more like using a key fob. Sadly, however, only the lone 2022 BMW iX currently supports this enhanced version of Apple’s Car Key.
Car Key isn’t without a few other advantages, but making it easier to get into your car hasn’t been one of them. Putting your digital car key into Apple Wallet does enable some arguably useful sharing features, such as “loaning” your car keys to a friend or family member with time limitations or an expiry date. Of course, they also have to be using an iPhone to take advantage of this.
Genesis and Kia Come on Board
It’s not a long list, but it’s significant as the first time the feature has been offered on a vehicle made by someone apart from BMW.
It appears that Kia’s 2022 Niro and the Genesis 2022 GV60 and G90 are all slated to support Car Key.
It’s also unclear if the feature is widely available on those models yet. A Kia spokesperson simply said the company would have more information “in the coming weeks,” while Apple has not yet responded to requests for comment.
We also have no idea if this will be the standard NFC-based Car Key or if Kia and Genesis are embracing the considerably more useful UWB version. Since it’s 2022, we’d certainly hope for the latter, but it’s impossible to be sure.
More importantly, however, we can hope this is just the start. Like Apple’s new digital Hotel Keys and Home Keys, Car Key has a lot of potential for becoming a very useful feature. Still, until it’s more widely available, it remains little more than a curiosity.