According to code strings discovered in early iOS 14 code, Apple is likely working with German carmaker BMW on CarKey, an upcoming feature in iOS 13.4 that will let you lock, unlock and start compatible vehicles with your iPhone using the short-range NFC wireless standard.

When contacted by 9to5Mac, BMW said that it couldn’t confirm their request or give the publication further details. The German company referred 9to5Mac to its December 2019 press release announcing efforts to adopt a new smartphone and watch Digital Key standard.

BMW was also the first carmaker to adopt wireless CarPlay.

Today, it is already possible to lock and unlock a compatible BMW vehicle, as well as start the engine and share your virtual key with others using the company’s Digital Key feature available as part of the BMW Connected smartphone app.

9to5Mac explained how CarKey may work:

9to5Mac expects CarKey to work for locking, unlocking and starting cars using the iPhone in place of a physical car key or key fob. Virtual car keys will be managed in Apple’s Wallet app and work with an option for authenticating without a passcode or Face ID for a faster experience. Virtual car keys will also be shareable over Messages.

Similar to CarPlay, Apple could also support two versions of CarKey: one that requires near contact and one that allows you to leave your iPhone in your pocket.

BMW drivers, for example, could unlock and start their car with wireless CarPlay automatically initiated all without taking their iPhone out of the bag or pocket.

BMW’s Digital Key feature has been standardized by the Car Connectivity Consortium, of which Apple is one of the charter members alongside other companies like Audi, General Motors, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Samsung, Qualcomm and others.

Screenshots courtesy of @DongleBookPro

The Digital Key Release 2.0 specification takes advantage of NFC for contactless communication between devices such as smartphones or tablets. A 3.0 updated to the Digital Key specification will boost security with location-aware keyless access.

According to the Car Connectivity Consortium:

Rather than having to pull their mobile devices out to access a car, consumers will be able to leave their mobile device in their bag or pocket when accessing and/or starting their vehicle. Passive access is not only vastly more convenient and a better overall user experience, it also allows vehicles to offer new location-aware features.

Passive keyless access and other new features, such as secure and accurate positioning, will require a combination of the Bluetooth Low Energy specification and the new Ultra Wideband short-range networking standards. The iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are currently the only Apple devices outfitted with an Ultra Wideband chip.

The Car Connectivity Consortium notes that using Ultra Wideband networking in release 3.0 will enable hyperlocal device tacking. As a result, the consortium writes, your iPhone will no longer need to be held directly up to the door handle in order to unlock the car. Instead, you’ll be able to leave the phone in your pocket and still unlock your car as soon as you approach it.

Currently, the Ultra Wideband chip in the iPhone 11 family is used to improve AirDrop performance, but Apple has hinted that’s only the top of the iceberg as additional capabilities will be unlocked at a later stage through software updates. For instance, Ultra Wideband networking could be used in Apple’s upcoming Tile-like item tracker, tentatively named “AirTag”.

Are you excited for the upcoming CarKey feature?

Let us know in the comments down below!