iOS 13.4 Beta Reveals 'CarKey' Feature That Would Turn Your iPhone or Apple Watch Into a Car Key

Apple yesterday seeded the first beta of iOS 13.4 with several new features, such as iCloud folder sharing, new Memoji stickers, and a redesigned Mail toolbar. While not mentioned in the release notes, the update also includes early signs of an interesting feature that would turn an iPhone or Apple Watch into a car key.

As first reported by 9to5Mac, and confirmed by MacRumors contributor Steve Moser, the iOS 13.4 beta contains strings of code that reference an unreleased "CarKey" framework that would enable an iPhone or Apple Watch to lock or unlock compatible vehicles and start the engine to drive.


The code indicates that "CarKey" would essentially be a digital car key stored in the Wallet app. This would allow you to approach your vehicle, hold your 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 for transit, Express Mode would be an option, eliminating the need to authenticate.
To use CarKey, hold iPhone or Apple Watch to reader. It will work automatically, without requiring Face ID. You can change express mode settings in Wallet.
For initial setup of CarKey, you will need to place your iPhone on top of the NFC reader in your vehicle, according to the strings. Apple says the process may take several minutes to complete. Then, you will need to enter a pairing code provided by your local dealership, or connect using your vehicle brand's app.
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.
Conveniently, it will be possible to share a CarKey with others, giving them full or restricted unlocking and driving 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.
Apple would be partnering with automakers on this initiative, suggesting that CarKey could become a factory-installed option like CarPlay. The feature would require an NFC-enabled vehicle, so it would likely be limited to newer models. It is unclear when CarKey may begin rolling out, but perhaps it is planned for the public release of iOS 13.4 within the next few months.

Notably, Apple is a member of the Car Connectivity Consortium, or CCC, which recently announced a new NFC-based Digital Key 2.0 specification that it said would be made available by the end of 2019. The CCC said this specification establishes a secure connection between mobile devices and vehicles using NFC, which continues to operate even when a compatible device's battery is low.

Next, 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. Apple added Ultra Wideband support to its iPhone 11 lineup and promised it would lead to "amazing new capabilities."

The above evidence coupled with related patents is quite compelling evidence that Apple has big plans for digital car keys.

Related Roundups: iOS 13, iPadOS

Top Rated Comments

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2 weeks ago


Sounds like a lot of extra steps to do something as simple as unlocking your car. Take out phone, hold near reader, authenticate with FaceID, wait for signal to unlock. As compared to just walking up to your door with a keyless FOB and tugging on the handle/pulling the button.


"This would allow you to approach your vehicle, hold your iPhone or Apple Watch near an NFC reader in the vehicle, authenticate with Face ID, and have the vehicle unlock automatically". Wow! It's that easy? Why would anyone bother with pushing a single button on a fob? o_O ;)


"Similar to Apple Pay for transit, Express Mode would be an option, eliminating the need to authenticate."

"Conveniently, it will be possible to share a CarKey with others, giving them full or restricted unlocking and driving capabilities."

"Next, 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."

Come on. Please read it all before complaining.
Rating: 20 Votes
2 weeks ago
Sounds like a lot of extra steps to do something as simple as unlocking your car. Take out phone, hold near reader, authenticate with FaceID, wait for signal to unlock. As compared to just walking up to your door with a keyless FOB and tugging on the handle/pulling the button.
Rating: 18 Votes
2 weeks ago
"This would allow you to approach your vehicle, hold your iPhone or Apple Watch near an NFC reader in the vehicle, authenticate with Face ID, and have the vehicle unlock automatically". Wow! It's that easy? Why would anyone bother with pushing a single button on a fob? o_O ;)
Rating: 10 Votes
2 weeks ago
Why "CarKey"? I want this on my house door.
Rating: 10 Votes
2 weeks ago
My car already does this with my key fob. not sure why I need to get my phone out.
Rating: 9 Votes
2 weeks ago
Toyota/Lexus has had this for nearly a decade. FOB in pocket, walk to door, place hand in handle - door unlocks. Go to rear of door, press hatch button, rear opens.
To me, the car is always unlocked and ready to drive.
To others, the car is always locked.

Why would I want to dig for an app, hold the phone next to the door - when I don't have to that now?
Rating: 5 Votes
2 weeks ago


I've never understood appeal of CarPlay. I have it but prefer factory nav sys & Sirius XM radio. CarPlay is just a 2nd screen for iPhone.

No way ANY factory nav is as good as using Waze.
Rating: 5 Votes
2 weeks ago
Of course the phone / app would need a backdoor so the Government can get in the cars /S.
Rating: 5 Votes
2 weeks ago


Maybe because factory nav typically costs $1,000 - $2,000 extra


Or maybe some people want to listen Apple Music, or Spotify, or something else that isn't SiriusXM.

Or maybe they want the traffic rerouting in Waze.

Or maybe one of the million other reasons CarPlay is better than OEM nav :)
Rating: 4 Votes
2 weeks ago
I currently drive a Model 3, and one of my favourite things is not needing to carry a key fob around. Just walk up to the car, and when my iPhone is in proximity I can just open the door. Walk away and it locks.

But in general this will be really nice to see spread over time. Especially if its like Express Mode for transit (or whatever its called), where you can tap your iPhone or Watch without the need to authenticate. I used that in London in December and it was so nice.


It’s basically the Apple Pay workflow. The description made it sound more complicated than it is. Yes keyless is one step less but you would also have to carry one more item.


Sounds like it might be even one step further - making it like Express Mode for transit where no authentication is needed.


My car already does this with my key fob. not sure why I need to get my phone out.


To avoid carrying a key fob around.
Rating: 3 Votes

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