May 17, 2021

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All The Technology

Apple’s Digital Car Key Feature Set to Gain U1 Ultra Wideband Support With Mid-2021 Spec Update

The Car Connectivity Consortium today announced that its Digital Key 3.0 specification with support for Ultra Wideband and Bluetooth LE connectivity will be made available to members like Apple by the middle of 2021.

bmw car key photo


At WWDC 2020, Apple introduced a new NFC-based digital Car Key feature that allows users to unlock and start their vehicle by holding a compatible iPhone or Apple Watch near the driver-side door. Similar to credit cards and boarding passes, digital car keys are stored in the Wallet app on devices running iOS 13.6 and watchOS 6.2.8 or later. So far, the feature is only compatible with select BMW models manufactured after July 1, 2020.

With support for Ultra Wideband, Digital Key 3.0 will enable hands-free, location-aware keyless access to vehicles and other location-aware features for an improved user experience. The specification will allow Apple to improve its Car Key feature so that users can unlock and start a compatible vehicle without taking their iPhone out of their pocket. NFC will continue to be supported as a “mandatory back-up solution.”

The improved Ultra Wideband version of Apple’s Car Key feature would require devices with the U1 chip like iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 models.

BMW previously announced plans to offer Digital Key Plus, an enhanced version of Apple’s Car Key feature, in its new iX electric vehicle. BMW said the feature would be available in Europe starting in late 2021 and in North America by early 2022.

In addition to providing a hands-free, location-aware experience, BMW said Ultra Wideband’s precision would ensure that relay attacks, where the radio signal is jammed or intercepted, are not possible, resulting in improved security.

“Digital Key Release 3.0 addresses security and usability by authenticating the Digital Key between a vehicle and the mobile device over Bluetooth Low Energy and then establishing a secure ranging session with UWB, which allows the vehicle to perform secure and accurate distance measurement to localize the mobile device,” said the Car Connectivity Consortium.

Apple previously said the new version of its Car Key feature with Ultra Wideband support would be available in 2021, but an exact timeframe is unknown. Apple will be hosting a virtual event today at 10 a.m. Pacific Time.