Apple’s new ‘CarKey’ feature will let you share a digital key using the Messages app

One of the more exciting new features heading to supported iOS devices is the new “CarKey” API.

Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t actually announced anything related to the new API discovered in the first developer beta of iOS 13.4, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a feature the company is working on. The CarKey API will allow iOS (and watchOS) users to lock, unlock, and start supported vehicles.

But the feature will also make it possible to send a digital car key, too. This particular feature was touched on with the first developer beta, but with the second developer beta seeded earlier today we have confirmation that sharing a digital key will be as easy as sending a text through the Messages app (via MacRumors).

Sharing a digital key means you are giving someone else temporary or permanent access to your vehicle. And sharing a key will be relatively easy. As noted in the report, you will be able to “send” your digital key to someone in a text message or iMessage through the stock Messages app. It will only be possible when in a conversation with another individual. You won’t be able to share a digital key in a group conversation.

Language discovered in the second developer beta of iOS 13.4 says as much:

CarKey is not available in group conversations. You can send CarKey in conversations with an individual.

To make it work, the vehicle needs to have an NFC reader installed inside the car, and users will be able to use an iPhone or an Apple Watch to lock, unlock, start, stop, or access the vehicle. As mentioned earlier, access is either permanent or temporary based on your needs and the individual you are sharing the key with.

Those who do receive the text message with the digital key will receive some straightforward instructions, too:

[Vehicle Owner] invited you to use their [Vehicle Model] with unlock & drive access. This allows you to use your ‌iPhone‌ and ‌Apple Watch‌ to unlock/lock the car, start the engine and drive.

There is an Express Mode associated with CarKey, too. This means it will work like Express Transit, so you won’t have to authenticate every single time with Face ID, Touch ID, or a passcode. However, by default it looks like the CarKey feature will require the biometric authentication to function properly.

NFC support in automobiles is not a widespread feature by any means, so it will be interesting how this rollout works. Apple will be partnering with automobile manufacturers to make it a worthwhile addition, though, similar to CarPlay. One has to hope that adoption from auto manufacturers goes a lot smoother than it did for CarPlay, though.

As noted in the original report, Apple is part of the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), which has already developed an NFC-based digital key specification, which initially saw the light of day at the end of 2019:

Apple is a member of the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), which has developed an NFC-based Digital Key 2.0 specificationmade available at the end of 2019. The new specification establishes a secure connection between mobile devices and vehicles over NFC.

The CCC already has its sights set on what’s next, though. The consortium is working on a Digital Key 3.0 which will work with not only Bluetooth Le but also Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology. UWB features are already present in the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, so it stands to reason that Apple will continue to use the technology in subsequent iPhone models, too.

Considering the presence of the CarKey API in iOS 13.4’s developer betas, it is possible this feature sees the light of day with the public launch of the mobile operating system in the near future. However, it’s also possible Apple will hold off on a public launch of the feature until after it can properly show it off later this year at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which typically takes place at the beginning of June.

Either way, we don’t have long to wait before the CarKey feature goes official. What do you think? Is this a worthwhile feature you’re looking forward to?