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Car manufacturers have been working on ways to let owners unlock their vehicles with their smartphones for a couple of years now, and although it hasn’t been until recently that we’ve seen solid evidence of Apple embracing the technology for iPhone users, it looks like this may be the year it arrives.
The ongoing project has been spearheaded by the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), a group of technology companies and automakers that includes Apple as a charter member. While a standard known as “Digital Key Release 1.0” was announced back in 2018, it’s been taking time to gain traction, likely at least partially hampered by the fact that new car models that could take advantage of it are only released on an annual basis, and car makers are unlikely to release aftermarket upgrades before they’ve rolled it out as a feature on current-year models.
Earlier this year, however, code found in iOS 13.4 revealed a new “CarKey” framework that suggested the technology is almost ready and could be coming to new 2021 vehicle models from at least some manufacturers. For instance, BMW has reportedly been on board for a while and is often at the forefront of adopting new technologies. It was one of the first to support CarPlay back in 2015, and still remains one of the few automakers offering wireless CarPlay.
The CarKey details found in iOS 13.4 appears to be laying the groundwork, but it was still unclear exactly what Apple’s plans were for the technology. Now, however, new information found in the latest iOS 13.6 beta by 9to5Mac suggests that the feature could actually launch with the next point release.
Certainly, the fact that the code is in a version of iOS 13, rather than iOS 14, suggests that Apple is planning to release it sooner rather than later, but there’s a good chance it’s also waiting to announce it in tandem with one or more automakers debuting support on their new 2021 models, which normally start being announced around this time of year.
While most of the car key details were buried under the hood in iOS 13.4, as of the iOS 13.6 beta, Apple has now published a section on “Adding and Managing Car Keys” to the Wallet section of its Data & Privacy policies. The same references can apparently also be found in iOS 13.5.1, and while it’s not something most users would typically stumble across, it’s still the most overt reference to the feature that we’ve yet seen.
How It Will Work
As the text explains, the process of adding a key for your supported vehicle is not unlike adding a new credit or debit card to Apple Pay; you’ll do so either by downloading the manufacturer-specific app for your vehicle and adding it from there or by using a pairing code provided by the manufacturer. As with Apple Pay, the policy notes that Apple may use your location and information about your account to detect possible fraud.
“Wallet allows you to add and share car keys for certain vehicles. You may add a car key by signing in to your vehicle manufacturer’s app or entering a pairing code in Wallet to claim the vehicle as your own and to pair your device with your vehicle.”
Once the initial vehicle pairing has been done, the car key will be added to your Apple Wallet app, and you’ll be able to share your car keys from there with other family members via an “Invite” button that will appear on the car key pass, which will send it out securely via iMessage. This will presumably be done in such a way that it can only be used by the specific person you’ve shared it with, likely by tying it to that person’s Apple ID.
Not surprisingly, considering Apple’s stance on privacy, the text also notes that Apple will not be retaining any information about how you use your car, nor even how often you lock or unlock the vehicle, although it makes no such promises on behalf of automakers, directing you instead to their privacy policies as to what data they might be collecting.
At this point it’s unclear whether Apple will use Bluetooth or NFC, although certainly the specification supports either, so it’s possible that iOS will support both, and it will simply be a matter of which technology each car maker adopts for their own vehicles.
With the new text showing up in iOS 13.6, it seems like there’s a good chance we could see an official announcement of this feature at next week’s WWDC event, although that will probably depend largely on whether Apple has yet managed to get any vehicle partners on board.