Apple’s digital car key is now available to use. The function was introduced as part of the iOS 13.6 update in mid-2020.
The car key brings the ability to unlock and start your car, simply by using your iPhone or Apple Watch.
Read on for a full explanation of how it works, along with the cars that currently support this new technology.
Which Apple smartphones support the car key function?
Apple’s newest iOS smartphones are the ones which offer car key functionality.
To use the digital key, you will need one of the following iPhones:
- iPhone SE
- iPhone 11 (including Pro and Max)
- iPhone XS (including Max)
- iPhone XR
The phone will need to be updated to the latest iOS 14.6 operating system. You will also need to be signed in to the iPhone using your Apple ID, and have access to your iPhone password protected.
What about using my Apple Watch?
Only Apple’s latest version of Watch range is currently able to work as a digital car key.
That means you will need to have a new Apple Watch Series 5, ideally running the latest Watch OS 7.5, to use the functionality it brings.
What cars support Apple car keys?
At the moment, BMW is the only manufacturer to offer support for Apple’s digital car key.
The German marque does at least offer it for a broad range of vehicles. The 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8 Series models are all compatible, along with the X5, X6, X7 and iX3.
The relevant car will need to have been manufactured after 1st July 2020, and be fitted with the Comfort Access (SA 322) option. Connected Drive Services will also need to be active on the car.
When will other cars use Apple car keys?
Apple is yet to confirm any other manufacturer opting to offer the digital car key function.
Apple is part of the Car Connectivity Consortium, which also includes Volkswagen, General Motors and Hyundai, so these companies may follow BMW in adopting the technology.
Although other companies include standalone digital key apps, the new Apple version sees access fully integrated into the wallet function of the iPhone. Using the wallet function means greater security, and the enhanced usability.
What else do I need to use Apple car keys?
Users need to download the BMW Connected app to their chosen Apple smartphone. This is needed to create a BMW ID, or link an existing BMW ID, to your compatible car.
After creating a BMW ID, and adding your BMW to the Connected app, you can then create the digital car key.
BMW requires users to be inside the car, and with both physical keys present, to prove your ownership. The Connected app will then take users through the steps to add your Apple device as a digital key.
What does the Apple digital car key actually do?
The digital car key offers two functions with compatible cars. Users can unlock and lock the car with their Apple device, and also start the car once inside.
This is as simple as holding the Apple device near to the door handle to unlock, or lock, the car. Only the driver’s-side door will be unlocked with the digital car key.
Once inside, users can place their Apple device in the smartphone charging tray, then press the engine start button.
An ‘Express Mode’ allows owners to use the digital car key without the need to enter a passcode, or use Face ID on the Apple device.
Can I still use Apple car keys if my iPhone battery is flat?
Yes. Apple has pre-empted worries about how to unlock your car if your iPhone battery runs flat.
When the iPhone battery gets very low, it enters a special ‘Power Reserve’ mode. This setting will see the iPhone retain enough charge to use the digital car key function for up to five hours.
If you manually turn your Apple device off, it will need to be turned back on to use the digital car key.
How can I share my Apple car key with others?
One of the more impressive functions of the Apple car key is the option to share it with up to five other people.
Users will need a compatible iPhone. The main user can then send an Apple iMessage from their device, inviting the new driver to add the digital car key to their wallet.
Access conditions can be set, including limiting the maximum speed and preventing the stability control from being turned off – if your son or daughter is borrowing the car, for example. The original owner can also revoke access to the digital car key at any time.
Are Apple car keys safe to use?
Apple says that the digital car key is saved within the secure section of the iPhone. It is also protected by a passcode or Face ID. This makes it extremely tough for others to get their hands on.
BMW also notes that the Apple car key uses near-field communication technology (NFC). This means both the Apple device and car must be in very close proximity for it to work.
Should you lose your Apple device, the digital car key can be deleted from iCloud or Find My iPhone.
How to avoid becoming a victim of road rage
What are Clean Air Zones and how do they affect you?
What to do if you fill your car with the wrong fuel