NFC-Based Digital Key Specification Released Ahead of Apple’s Rumored CarKey Feature on iPhone

Amid rumors that Apple is working on a “CarKey” feature for iPhone, the Car Connectivity Consortium today announced that its NFC-based Digital Key Release 2.0 specification has been finalized and made available to its members, which includes Apple.


The specification enables mobile devices to store, authenticate, and share digital keys for vehicles with end-to-end security and privacy. The specification includes support for a low-power mode, meaning that a vehicle can still be unlocked with a smartphone that recently ran out of battery, similar to Power Reserve mode for Apple Pay transit cards.

Moving forward, the consortium is developing a Digital Key 3.0 specification based on both Bluetooth LE and Ultra Wideband to enable passive, location-aware keyless access. This would allow you to leave your iPhone in your pocket or backpack when accessing or starting your vehicle. iPhone 11 models are equipped with an Apple-designed U1 chip with Ultra Wideband support, so Apple could choose to offer this functionality.

MacRumors recently discovered that Apple is developing a new “CarKey” feature that will allow an iPhone or Apple Watch to unlock, lock, and start an NFC-compatible vehicle. Just like credit cards and boarding passes, users will be able to add a digital car key to the Wallet app, eliminating the need to use a physical car key or key fob.

CarKey will allow users to approach their vehicle, hold their iPhone or Apple Watch near an NFC reader in the vehicle, authenticate with Face ID, and have the vehicle unlock automatically. Similar to Apple Pay at transit turnstiles, Express Mode would be an option, eliminating the need to authenticate with Face ID or a passcode.

Last month, screenshots of what appears to be the CarKey interface surfaced on Twitter, providing us with our first look at the upcoming feature.


As expected, a digital car key appears as a card in the Wallet app. Tapping on the card reveals info such as the car model, issuing automaker, a toggle switch for Express Mode, and an option to share a car key with other users. When sharing a car key, the primary user can provide others with three levels of access, including the ability to unlock the trunk only, unlock the vehicle, or unlock the vehicle and drive it.

Based on leaked iOS 14 code, it appears that BMW may be among the first automakers to support the CarKey feature. It is unclear when Apple plans to announce the feature, but it is expected to preview iOS 14 next month.

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