Here’s how Apple’s new Car Key feature works and when you’ll be able to use it

After being rumored for months, Apple announced Car Key last month as a feature of iOS 14 and also iOS 13. As the name suggests, this feature turns the iPhone into a real car key that can unlock, lock, and start a car. Read on as we detail Car Key options, compatibility, and availability.

How does Car Key work?

With Car Key, drivers can replace physical keys with their iPhone. As Apple demonstrated during the WWDC 2020 keynote, you can simply hold your iPhone close to the car’s door handle to unlock it using NFC technology.

Once you’re inside it, put your iPhone in the NFC reader or wireless charger to start the car. If you have an iPhone 11 or later, you don’t even have to take your iPhone out of your pocket to unlock the doors or start the car thanks to the U1 chip — Apple says this feature will be available with new cars starting next year.

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Car Key doesn’t require authentication by default, so it can work with just a tap. Apple ensures the process is secure and based on a unique token that is shared between your iPhone and your car. iOS uses your location and Apple ID information to prevent fraud.

However, if you’re not comfortable with Express Mode, you can disable it to require Face ID or Touch ID authentication to unlock and start the car. Car keys can also be added to Apple Watch, making it even easier to use this feature.

Even if your iPhone runs out of battery, Car Key still works for up to five additional hours through Power Reserve mode.

How to add a Car Key?

Car keys are managed by the Wallet app on the iPhone, but you also must have the car manufacturer’s app installed to get everything working. Earlier today, BMW updated its Connected app to let users set up Car Key with their iPhone.

You have to put your iPhone in the NFC reader of the car during the first setup. iOS will identify your car and redirect you to the car manufacturer’s app to complete the process. If the automatic pairing process fails, users can manually add the Car Key using a PIN code generated by the car manufacturer’s app.

Users can share their car keys with up five people through iMessage, and you can define whether each person invited will have full access to the car or just permission to unlock the doors.

Compatibility

Car Key is compatible with these devices listed below:

  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone SE (2nd gen)
  • Apple Watch Series 5

Not every car will work with Car Key. BMW is the first car manufacturer to announce Car Key support, and it’s adding the feature to the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, X5, X6, X7, X5M, X6M, and Z4 models manufactured after July 1, 2020. You can check to see if your car is compatible via the vehicle tab in the BMW Connected app.

Availability

Although Car Key has been announced as a new feature of iOS 14, it will also be available to users this month with iOS 13.6. Apple hasn’t specified a release date for iOS 13.6, which is currently available as a beta version, but it’s likely that the update will be released to the public in the coming days.

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