Apple hasn’t made the rumored “CarKey” (“Car Key”) feature officially official just yet, but we know it’s something the company has been working on for quite some time. And now a new report sheds quite a bit of light on what we should expect in the future.

The report from MacRumors is a nice roundup of what we can expect to see from the upcoming CarKey feature, which, at face value, will be an NFC-based feature that will allow iPhone owners, and owners of supported automobiles, to not only lock and unlock their car, but also start the vehicle, too. There is quite a bit to go over, while much of it has been reported upon in the past based on beta versions of iOS 13, this breakdown does include a few more details worthy of attention.

The basics

  • What is CarKey: This is a feature, a digital protocol, that will rely on Near-Field Communication (NFC) to allow an iPhone to unlock, lock, and start a supported automobile. That vehicle must also have NFC equipment installed as well for the feature to function.
  • Expected features: As mentioned above, the very basic features will make it possible to access an NFC-capable vehicle, and also start it, with just the associated iPhone in your pocket. However, it is possible that auto manufacturers will be able to branch out in some ways, so we may see individual features present on some vehicles and not others.
  • How it works: CarKey is based on the Digital Key 2.0 specification, which was developed by the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC). This specification was released in May of this year, so it’s still fresh on the market. That means that some auto manufacturers may still be dabbling with it, laying the groundwork, but may not have anything ready for their next model refresh (which many will have ready to go in early 2021).
  • When will we see it announced: That’s up in the air at the moment. The latest report regarding CarKey indicated that Apple had updated the privacy screens related to Wallet and Privacy in the most recent iOS 13.6 beta (and MR‘s report indicates it’s been present since the first beta), which may suggest Apple is ready to announce the feature soon. It may even be available in iOS 13.6, which will launch soon. However, it’s more likely that, due to the fact that Apple must rely on auto manufacturers to make this feature truly worthwhile, we could see it announced at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (which starts on Monday, June 22), and it may be a feature that’s ready for the public later this year with the launch of iOS 14.

The set up process

  • Initial pairing: To get the phone paired with the automobile, the iPhone owner will need to place the phone over, or near, the NFC reader inside the vehicle. There will be a pairing code that populates, which will need to be entered. It’s likely that many auto manufacturers will require owners to download a specific app to make this work.

Place this ‌iPhone‌ on top of the NFC reader in your car. Pairing process may take several minutes, do not remove it from the reader until pairing is done.

Enter the CarKey code provided by your car dealer or connect using the [Vehicle Brand’s] app.

Sharing your CarKey

  • Sharing is easy: Having a digital key goes beyond just being able to have your phone work as a key. It also means you can share a key to a family member or friend when needed. This will be handled through the Messages app, along with an invite button within the Wallet app.
  • Access: Owners who do share a key will be able to dictate just how much capability is associated with it. So if you want to make it possible for someone you know to get into your car to get something, but not actually be able to drive the car, you’ll be able to do that. That goes for opening just the trunk as well. Or, users will also be able to make it possible for a shared key to have full access, including the ability to drive the vehicle, as long as that phone also has NFC capabilities.

[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.

Here’s what CarKey looks like (right now)

  • CarKey lives in the Wallet app: And, as such, it looks like any of the other cards or important elements that are available in the Wallet app. Of course, this is all based on early builds of CarKey, so it’s possible that this will change in the future.

The rest

  • If your battery dies: There is a lower power mode associated with NFC, and, as such, this means that if your phone’s or even your Apple Watch’s battery gets severely low –or has recently died– your phone and/or Apple Watch will continue to function as a car key as needed. (It’s probably a safe bet to keep your physical key, or key FOB, on you anyway just to be safe.
  • Apple, security, and auto manufacturers: This area is a little tricky and worth taking note of. In the most recent privacy screens associated to CarKey, Apple notes that it is not tracking any strategic data points for using the feature. That means Apple isn’t tracking when you lock, unlock, or start your car when you use CarKey. A unique identifier is set up during the initial pairing process, so that information is anonymized on Apple’s part. However, this information is up for grabs for the auto manufacturer. It’s possible that the company may request that information, so you’ll need to weigh whether or not you’re comfortable with that before using it.
  • It doesn’t work automatically: The iPhone owner will need to go through the set up process before CarKey will work. So it won’t just work by default. And, of course, your iPhone and the car you own both need to support NFC.
  • Auto manufacturer partnerships: This is a feature that, like CarPlay, requires support from auto manufacturers. Companies like Hyundai and BMW already support a digital key feature, and, indeed, the latter of the two is rumored to be one of the first partners for Apple’s upcoming CarKey feature. However, at this point it remains unknown which vehicle manufacturers are going to support the upcoming feature.

We’re going to have to wait and see when CarKey will get the official announcement it deserves, but this certainly sounds like an exciting new element to the iOS operating system. Of course, many auto mobile manufacturers will likely remain focused on using their own apps for a digital key feature in general, just like Hyundai and BMW already do, so it will be interesting to see how much this expands support across companies.

Are you looking forward to this particular feature?