Apple is seemingly taking the first steps to making an iPhone or Apple Watch function as a key for a car or van, with the presence of references to a “CarKey” API within the first iOS 13.4 beta indicating it could be used to unlock or even start a vehicle.
Apple released the first developer beta build of iOS 13.4 on Wednesday, but as is commonly the case for the builds, it did not advise of any changes to expect withing each of them. One behind-the-scenes change that is hidden in the code suggests at least one major new feature is in the works.
Appearing in the beta are references to an API called “CarKey.” Found shortly after the beta’s release on Wednesday by 9to5Mac, the API references reveal it could be used with cars that have some sort of NFC support.
In terms of what the CarKey API could do, it is thought its capabilities would include unlocking a vehicle, locking it, and starting the car. The API itself will be used to authenticate with a paired car’s onboard computer, and in a similar fashion to some existing radio-based keyless entry systems, may only need to be held within range of a specific beacon within the vehicle to function.
Unlike features like Apple Pay transactions which rely on the iPhone being turned on to function, the feature will allegedly be able to function when the Apple Watch or iPhone is on low power or out of battery, similar to some Express Transit Card functionality. Pairing will occur via the Wallet app and the car manufacturer’s app, with the iPhone needed to be placed on the NFC reader for the initial pairing process.
The key will not necessarily be limited to just one iPhone, as there are references to the possible sharing of a CarKey with other people. Invitations through the Wallet app could be offered to others, enabling the key to function on other iPhones, with the possibility of limiting the key to specific elements, such as being able to unlock and lock the car, but not to drive it.
It remains to be seen when exactly CarKey will roll out, but the initial references would indicate Apple is laying the groundwork for it to become a full feature down the line. It is more probable that it will be available to use long before the often-rumored Apple Car launches, with the high likelihood Apple is already working with other car producers to enable the feature.