Apple wants the iPhone to replace your car keys. On Monday, the tech company announced at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, or WWDC, a new feature that uses the smartphone to unlock and start a car.
While Apple’s years-long ambition to build its own vehicle hasn’t materialized, its CarPlay infotainment system is available in 97% of new cars, according to the company.
And it thinks that the humble car key, which on new cars can take the shape of your vehicle, or even feature a screen of its own, can still be improved further.
“They’ve been around for over 100 years but they’ve become big, bulky and ripe for reimagining,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering.
Apple will first roll out the feature on the 2021 BMW 5 Series, but wants to expand it to other car models.
Emily Schubert, Apple senior manager of car experience engineering, demonstrated how a driver can tap the door handle with their iPhone to unlock the sedan. Then drivers place the iPhone on the car’s charging pad and push the ignition button to start the car. The Apple technology relies on what’s known as Near Field Communication, which allows devices within a few centimeters of each other to exchange data wirelessly. Apple plans to transition to using a different technology, ultra wideband, which will allow for unlocking from greater distances. An iPhone could remain in a driver’s pocket or bag.
BMW owners will also be able to share the virtual car key with friends through iMessage. Volvo offers a similar service in which keys can be shared with smartphones.
Apple is working with standards groups to pave the way for expanding the technology to more cars. Federighi said it expects to see support for the new ultra wideband standard in new vehicles next year.
In May, an industry group, the Car Connectivity Consortium, announced a standardized way to store digital keys. Its members include major automakers and tech companies such as Apple, BMW, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Samsung and Volkswagen.