Surprise! Digital Keys Arrive in iOS 15.0 After All (But What Are They? Where Can You Use Them?)

Wallet Keys Tap to Unlock iOS 15 3 Credit: Apple
Text Size
- +

Toggle Dark Mode

Although we won’t be getting every promised iOS 15 feature in today’s initial release, it’s not all bad news. In fact, Apple has actually surprised us with a feature that’s ready to go sooner than we had expected.

When Apple first took the wraps off iOS 15 back in June, it announced a big expansion to come to the iPhone Wallet app that would add support for more styles of digital keys as well as digital ID cards like driver’s licenses.

Shortly after the WWDC Keynote, however, these features were all flagged on Apple’s iOS 15 Features page as “coming later this year,” so we weren’t expecting to see any of these until at least iOS 15.1.

That made some sense, since both of these features go beyond the walls of Apple Park, requiring support from third parties. Putting a home key in your Wallet requires a compatible digital lock, and of course, digital IDs require government agencies to actually issue them in that form.

While Apple notes that the Digital ID feature still won’t be coming until “late 2021” as a handful of U.S. states have only just gotten on board, it does appear that the digital keys are ready to go today in iOS 15.0.

We were actually surprised to see mention of this in the release notes for the iOS 15.0 RC that Apple shipped out to developers last week, but according to Apple’s iOS 15 Features page, it’s official, as all the asterisks beside the feature have been removed there as well.

What You’ll Need to Use Digital Keys

Apple has had Car Key around since iOS 13.6 two years ago, and this feature is really just an expansion of that to offer digital keys for other kinds of digital locks. After all, as far as your iPhone is concerned, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re pointing it at your BMW or your front door.

Unfortunately, it may still be a while before we see HomeKit door locks that offer support for home key. So far, we haven’t even heard any announcements from the usual suspects, much less tangible products. Now that iOS 15 is out, we expect we’ll start hearing some promises soon, but it could still be months before you can store your front door key in your Wallet app.

Originally, we thought that Apple’s plans to delay the feature may have been simply a matter of waiting for the first accessories to come to market, but Apple’s VP of Wallet and Apple Pay, Jennifer Bailey, also told us that Hyatt Hotels was getting ready to roll out hotel key support to over 1,000 properties worldwide — beginning this fall.

So, it makes sense that Apple at least wants to be ready for Hyatt — and whatever other hotel chains may want to get on board — and this is where the experience may, in fact, be the most useful.

Frankly, as cool as home key sounds in concept, it’s not a huge leap over using most other HomeKit compatible door locks. In many cases, it may amount to little more than the difference between tapping a button in your Home app or tapping your iPhone against your door lock. We suspect home key will be most useful for those who want something simpler than setting up a full HomeKit ecosystem.

For hotels, on the other hand, Apple is promising a much more turnkey experience (no pun intended). For example, Bailey promised that Hyatt’s system would actually let you book a room online and receive your key before you even arrive at the hotel. This would let you head straight to your room without even worrying about stopping by the front desk.

It’s not a new idea, to be fair, even for Apple. Starwood Hotels developed an Apple Watch for its properties six years ago, with did something similar. However, that required a custom app. Hotel keys in Wallet will require much less effort on the part of hotel chains, hopefully leading to much wider adoption.

Meanwhile, digital key support in iOS 15 will mean that businesses will be ready to go with office keys, allowing employees to use their Apple Watch or iPhone to access any restricted area where their corporate badge would normally be accepted. Since many office security systems already used NFC-based badge readers, no special hardware would be required to implement this in many businesses.

Social Sharing