Apple turns the iPhone into the key for your car

Today at Apple’s annual developer conference — held virtually because of COVID — the company announced the ability to control a car with an iPhone. With an upcoming software update, the iPhone can soon unlock and start a car like a standard key. If your car supports it, that is.

Details are slim at the moment.

Initially, only the upcoming BMW 5 Series will support this feature. Apple expects other manufacturers to support it in the future, too.

Security is paramount. Apple says the so-called digital key will live in the secure environment on the owner’s iPhone. It’s not stored in the cloud, but locally on the iPhone. This is the same secure enclave that stores the owner’s Face ID and Wallet information.

Once the key is added to the iPhone, owners can share the key with other iPhones through iMessage. When sharing, the owner can limit the permissions of the key. Again, details are light, but it seems like this will allow parents to restrict the use of a vehicle to teenagers. Automakers have long offered similar options and enable the owner to put a cap on the rate of speed a person can drive, the volume of the radio and other features. It’s unclear at this point the extent of Apple’s permissions.

Apple said that the company is working with car makers to integrate the iPhone’s U1 ultra-wideband chip into this system. If implemented, the range would be greatly increased. Without the U1 chip, the owner would need to hold the phone close to the car so the car can read the phone’s NFC chip. With U1, the range increases dramatically. Apple gave the example of an owner walking up to a car and unlocking it without taking the phone out of a bag.

This feature will roll out with iOS 14 but will come to iOS 13 devices, too.

A similar feature is available on Android devices with BMW cars. Called, BMW Digital Key, this feature is available with some Samsung Galaxy devices running Android 8.0 or above.