A woman holding an iPhone in front of a car's steering wheel.
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Imagine using your iPhone or Apple Watch to start your car, eliminating the need to carry a keyfob. Apple is working on a “CarKey” feature in the iOS 13.4 beta, which will let you add car keys to the Wallet app.

This feature may come to Android phones, too. Apple is part of the “Car Connectivity Consortium,” which created a digital key standard. Aside from Apple and car manufacturers, the consortium’s members also include Samsung and LG Electronics.

Standardizing What’s Already Possible

Using your phone to unlock and start your car isn’t a new idea. It’s not even a new technology: You can buy cars that support “digital keys” today.

For example, if you have a Tesla, the Tesla app will let you unlock and start your car from your phone. Audi offers its own app that will let you unlock your car with your phone. Depending on your car manufacturer, the setup process can be confusing. The system is fragmented, and car manufacturers have to develop this feature for their cars on their own.

Enter Apple’s CarKey feature, which will implement this in an easy-to-setup, standardized way. You could even share your car key with someone else with an iPhone.

How CarKey Will Work

As 9to5Mac points out, the latest iOS 13.4 betas reference a “CarKey” API that car manufacturers can plug into. If your car supports CarKey and has an NFC reader, you’ll be able to unlock and start your car just by bringing your phone near the vehicle. Using near field communication (NFC), there’s no network connection required.

You won’t need to unlock your phone to unlock your car by default. But, for extra security, you can configure it to require Face ID.

The pairing process sounds like it will be simple. You will still need your car manufacturer’s app installed. If it’s compatible with CarKey, you can then open the Wallet app and go through the pairing process. You’ll place the iPhone on top of the NFC reader in your car. Your car key will be available for use in the Wallet app on your iPhone, and then you can add it to your Apple Watch—if you want.

CarKey also looks like it will let you share your keys with other people. From your Wallet, you can share the key with someone else with an iPhone. They’ll be able to unlock, lock, and start your car, and you won’t even have to hand over your keyfob.

RELATED: What is NFC (Near Field Communication), and What Can I Use It For?

When Will You Get CarKey?

A work-in-progress CarKey feature appears to be part of iOS 13.4. Apple released the first developer beta of this update on February 5, 2020. Based on previous release cycles, we’d expect to see a stable version of iOS 13.4 in the next few months. Expect it before mid-2020.

It’s possible that CarKey won’t be part of the final iOS 13.4 update, of course. If it needs more time in the oven, it should still arrive by iOS 14, which will be the next major update. Based on Apple’s release schedules, we expect Apple to release iOS 14 in September 2020.

CarKey won’t necessarily require new hardware. If a car has NFC hardware built-in, it should be possible for car manufacturers to update their apps to support CarKey. Apple hasn’t officially announced CarKey yet, but it’s possible that many existing cars will get this feature.

Expect an official announcement about CarKey and the car manufacturers that will be supporting it sometime in 2020.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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