Apple's Digital Car Key Feature Set to Gain U1 Ultra Wideband Support With Mid-2021 Spec Update

The Car Connectivity Consortium today announced that its Digital Key 3.0 specification with support for Ultra Wideband and Bluetooth LE connectivity will be made available to members like Apple by the middle of 2021.

bmw car key photo
At WWDC 2020, Apple introduced a new NFC-based digital Car Key feature that allows users to unlock and start their vehicle by holding a compatible iPhone or Apple Watch near the driver-side door. Similar to credit cards and boarding passes, digital car keys are stored in the Wallet app on devices running iOS 13.6 and watchOS 6.2.8 or later. So far, the feature is only compatible with select BMW models manufactured after July 1, 2020.

With support for Ultra Wideband, Digital Key 3.0 will enable hands-free, location-aware keyless access to vehicles and other location-aware features for an improved user experience. The specification will allow Apple to improve its Car Key feature so that users can unlock and start a compatible vehicle without taking their iPhone out of their pocket. NFC will continue to be supported as a "mandatory back-up solution."

The improved Ultra Wideband version of Apple's Car Key feature would require devices with the U1 chip like iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 models.

BMW previously announced plans to offer Digital Key Plus, an enhanced version of Apple's Car Key feature, in its new iX electric vehicle. BMW said the feature would be available in Europe starting in late 2021 and in North America by early 2022.

In addition to providing a hands-free, location-aware experience, BMW said Ultra Wideband's precision would ensure that relay attacks, where the radio signal is jammed or intercepted, are not possible, resulting in improved security.

"Digital Key Release 3.0 addresses security and usability by authenticating the Digital Key between a vehicle and the mobile device over Bluetooth Low Energy and then establishing a secure ranging session with UWB, which allows the vehicle to perform secure and accurate distance measurement to localize the mobile device," said the Car Connectivity Consortium.

Apple previously said the new version of its Car Key feature with Ultra Wideband support would be available in 2021, but an exact timeframe is unknown. Apple will be hosting a virtual event today at 10 a.m. Pacific Time.

Top Rated Comments

Johnny907 Avatar
22 weeks ago
Let’s hope it’s more secure than the actual key fobs car makers are using these days.
Case in point: my sister’s week old Audi SQ8 was stolen while she was in the grocery store for 20 minutes last month. You’d think a car that new and that expensive would have unbreakable wireless encryption, but apparently you’d be wrong. Video shows a dude walking up after she leaves, waves something in front of the door for a couple seconds until it unlocks, gets in and 30 seconds later drives off.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Razorpit Avatar
22 weeks ago
I like the idea of this technology, but having to take my phone out of my pocket or holding my watch to the door seems like a step backwards from just grabbing the door handle and having the fob do the work now.

Having had various phone crashes, low battery, etc. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon and leaving the tried and true fob method we have now.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TheYayAreaLiving Avatar
22 weeks ago
Hopefully it gets expanded to all car models.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Razorpit Avatar
22 weeks ago

Let’s hope it’s more secure than the actual key fobs car makers are using these days.
Case in point: my sister’s week old Audi SQ8 was stolen while she was in the grocery store for 20 minutes last month. You’d think a car that new and that expensive would have unbreakable wireless encryption, but apparently you’d be wrong. Video shows a dude walking up after she leaves, waves something in front of the door for a couple seconds until it unlocks, gets in and 30 seconds later drives off.
That’s the one downside of the current fobs. Encryption needs to catch up with the times.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Unregistered 4U Avatar
22 weeks ago

I like the idea of this technology, but having to take my phone out of my pocket or holding my watch to the door seems like a step backwards from just grabbing the door handle and having the fob do the work now.

Having had various phone crashes, low battery, etc. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon and leaving the tried and true fob method we have now.
I think that’s just for the picture :)… or at least I HOPE it is as this is supposed to be a god replacement for passive entry systems where the car unlocks with a button push if the fob is nearby.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Shivetya Avatar
22 weeks ago
I am very happy with my Tesla working with blue tooth to open the car and such. I haven't seen a broadcast booster system which exploits it similar to how fobs are exploited. even better we can further protect our car with a pin to start. Ford even allows pin to access the car with their EV
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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