CarKey feature buried in iOS beta might let iPhones replace car keys

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A Tesla Watch app concept.
A concept design for an Apple Watch app designed to communicate with a Tesla.
Photo: Eleks Labs

Apple reportedly added code to iPhone and Apple Watch to let these devices function as car keys, giving users one less thing to constantly carry around.

The company began work on such a feature years ago, and supposedly how has finally reached the point where it’s building the feature into iOS and watchOS.

First mention of a CarKey API

Buried in the code of the iOS 13.4 beta released today are references to a CarKey API, according to 9to5Mac. This is reportedly intended to allow Apple devices to do everything car keys can do.

Many modern cars wirelessly communicate with a key fob to unlock doors and start the engine. Apple will apparently use the NFC capabilities in iPhone and Apple Watch to perform the same tasks.

This has been on Apple’s radar for years. The company got a patent for a wireless car key that used Bluetooth way back in 2015.

Your iPhone becomes a wireless car key

A note in the iOS 13.4 code says, “To use CarKey, hold iPhone or Apple Watch to reader. It will work automatically, without requiring Face ID,” according to 9to5Mac.

Automobile owners will likely raise questions about how easy it might become for someone to clone their car keys. Getting an Apple device to learn the correct signal will supposedly require putting an iPhone on the car’s NFC reader, and the cooperation of the car-maker’s iOS application.

The virtual key will allegedly appear in the Wallet app. And the code can later be transferred to an Apple Watch or another iPhone.

When Apple might add the CarKey functionality to devices remains unknown. It’s reportedly included in iOS 13.4 but won’t automatically launch when that version does. For example, devs found references to Apple’s item-tracking tags in iOS 13 back in June, but no such products have been released.