Apple lays groundwork to use iPhone as a car key via NFC

Posted:
in iPhone edited June 2020
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.

Concept in Transit

Plans to give consumers the option to use their iPhone as a car key replacement became a possibility after the Car Connectivity Consortium published its first Digital Key Release 1.0 standard for NFC-enabled smartphone interactions with a vehicle in June 2018. Apple is a charter member of the CCC, and is largely expected to be implementing standards defined by such technical groups.

According to a white paper outlining the technology's architecture, Release 1.0 wanted to create standardized interfaces between a car, a smart device's NFC and Bluetooth Low Energy stack, secure element, first-party app, TSM, OEM backend and SE provider. OEMs are responsible for proprietary interfaces between their respective backends and the car.

Apple has also examined the concept of iPhone-based keyless entry systems in a patent application for "Enhanced automotive passive entry," which surfaced in August 2018. The filing suggested the use of magnetic antennas and radio frequency antennas to determine the range of the iPhone from the vehicle, enabling and disabling specific features based on its location.

Another patent granted in November 2019 for a "Mobile device for communicating and ranging with access control system for automatic functionality" put forward the idea of a similar system that combined the use of Bluetooth and Ultra-Wideband for a key. The proposed system would use Bluetooth to perform data transfers between the car and device, including the exchange of cryptographic keys in a challenge-response authentication process, while Ultra-Wideband would be used to detect the presence and range of the iPhone with far more range and accuracy than Bluetooth is capable of achieving.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 27
    nceencee Posts: 857member
    I can already do some of this with my 2020 Toyota Highlander via the Toyota app., on my iPhone
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 2 of 27
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member
    ncee said:
    I can already do some of this with my 2020 Toyota Highlander via the Toyota app., on my iPhone
    Is that NFC or is that using WiFi and/or cellular to connect to the car via the internet using the iPhone app?
    bonobobwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 27
    Long overdue, then I can leave those dumb fobs at home!  

    I am guessing this might also leverage UWB...  
    caladanianGeorgeBMacgilly33watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 27
    Hopefully WITHOUT paying monthly fees?!  

    If Apple can enable this w/out monthly fees other companies like GM charge to use their iPhone apps, that would be awesome.  Tired of being nickel and dimed to death with monthly charges!  
    ncee said:
    I can already do some of this with my 2020 Toyota Highlander via the Toyota app., on my iPhone
    caladanianwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 27
    digitoldigitol Posts: 268member
        TESLA.       
    eriamjhcaladanianGeorgeBMackurai_kagewatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 27
    ncee said:
    I can already do some of this with my 2020 Toyota Highlander via the Toyota app., on my iPhone
    My wife's car has built in NFC but I have no idea what it is for. The NFC is just in front of the cup holders and next to where I plug in a USB cable for CarPlay. The only reason I know is because whenever I put my phone there the Apple Pay interface appears.

    As with you, she has an app that can do many of these functions, but it is terrible. It takes forever to connect and then just as long to perform a function. I'm not exaggerating at all when I say that sometimes it can take up to 5 minutes total to remote start the car and the app will instead frequently respond with an error after all that time. It sounded good when we first got the car but due to the frustration of slowness and frequent errors she's only used the app a few times in about 3 years, then she gave up. 

    If Apple's implementation works better than that which came with the vehicle it would probably get more use from us.

    By the way, another oddity with remote starting the car (when it worked): as soon as the door is opened the ignition turns off and the car needs to be started again. I guess that makes sense from the standpoint of not wanting the car to be stolen, but the engine won't start unless the doors are locked already.
    zoetmbwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 27
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,659member
    Soli said:
    ncee said:
    I can already do some of this with my 2020 Toyota Highlander via the Toyota app., on my iPhone
    Is that NFC or is that using WiFi and/or cellular to connect to the car via the internet using the iPhone app?
    digitol said:
        TESLA.       
    Exactly - Tesla has been doing this for several years now. I'm not sure if it's NFC or bluetooth, but I seem to remember it being bluetooth. Bluetooth would seem to be a better choice; NFC only has a range of a few cm/in, so you'd have to take your phone out of your pocket to actually use it. 

    What do the regular wireless Key FOBs that many cars have now use? They are able to sense whether the key is in the car or not but also work at distance greater than typical NFC ranges. 
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 27
    hentaiboyhentaiboy Posts: 1,249member
    MplsP said:
    What do the regular wireless Key FOBs that many cars have now use? They are able to sense whether the key is in the car or not but also work at distance greater than typical NFC ranges. 
    RFID
  • Reply 9 of 27
    davgregdavgreg Posts: 953member
     Not a sure I am comfortable with that much of my car being exposed to the internet.
    If Jeff Bezos iPhone can be hacked, yours can as well.
    edited February 2020 zoetmbwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 27
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,659member
    hentaiboy said:
    MplsP said:
    What do the regular wireless Key FOBs that many cars have now use? They are able to sense whether the key is in the car or not but also work at distance greater than typical NFC ranges. 
    RFID
    Duh! ߤ榺wj;♂️ <- that's supposed to be a facepalm. 

    Something else I thought of - could this be related to the rumored project titan?
    edited February 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 27
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member
    MplsP said:
    hentaiboy said:
    MplsP said:
    What do the regular wireless Key FOBs that many cars have now use? They are able to sense whether the key is in the car or not but also work at distance greater than typical NFC ranges. 
    RFID
    Duh! ߤ榺wj;♂️ <- that's supposed to be a facepalm. 

    Something else I thought of - could this be related to the rumored project titan?
    It was until you edited. Once you do that you need to re-add any Emoji or it'll end up with some string of funky Unicode characters that were an Emoji. This has been an issue with these forums since they switched to Quiller.
    cornchipdedgeckowatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 27
    GG1GG1 Posts: 480member
    digitol said:
        TESLA.       

    Tesla are not a member, according to https://carconnectivity.org/members/.

    Not surprising, since Tesla don't support Car Play or Android Auto.
    caladanianwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 27
    GG1 said:
    digitol said:
        TESLA.       

    Tesla are not a member, according to https://carconnectivity.org/members/.

    Not surprising, since Tesla don't support Car Play or Android Auto.
    Well that just saved me $70000+ (that I don't have in the first place)!  I could not buy a car that doesn't have CarPlay.
    edited February 2020 cornchipGeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 27
    I wonder if the "CarKey" technology will do anything to prevent keyless car theft, where thieves use an amplifier and relay electronics to pickup the key fob signals from within a house some distance away from the car, allowing them to open the car to steal contents or even drive it a way to a chop shop...

    Conceivably, RFID/NFC/BLE signals could be picked up and relayed as well. While it is possible to defeat most attempts at this by putting your keys in a cookie tin or Faraday pouch, I hope we wouldn't need to put our phones in them as well.  I think it would be better if the vehicle manufacturers would address the vulnerability more directly with or without CarKey, but if CarKey ends up being part of the solution, I'm all for it.
    GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 27
    ITGUYINSD said:

    Well that just saved me $70000+ (that I don't have in the first place)!  I could not buy a car that doesn't have CarPlay.
    LOL — exactly what I’d expect from someone who’s never driven a Tesla.

    CarPlay became necessary b/c most car companies treated the info system as an afterthought and/or don’t have nearly the software talent that Apple could muster, resulting in years of absolutely poop in-car info/mapping systems. 

    This simply does not apply to Tesla.
    edited February 2020 Carnagechemengin1kurai_kage
  • Reply 16 of 27
    ‘Bout time. If it wasn’t for my stupid key fob I could go in to Trader Joe’s with just my watch. Oh wait, this is phone only?
    GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 27
    laytechlaytech Posts: 252member
    This could be a really exciting new feature. It would be truly magnificent if current auto makers allow their existing cars to function with Apple CarKey, maybe those with Apple Car play or those of recent age but it would be disappointing if they only offer it on new cars. We will wait and see but this would be a fab new feature. Soon I won’t need to worry about taking my car key.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 27
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    ‘Bout time. If it wasn’t for my stupid key fob I could go in to Trader Joe’s with just my watch. Oh wait, this is phone only?

    You'll need shoes, shirt and (hopefully) pants.
    GG1libertyforallwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 27
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,659member
    ITGUYINSD said:

    Well that just saved me $70000+ (that I don't have in the first place)!  I could not buy a car that doesn't have CarPlay.
    LOL — exactly what I’d expect from someone who’s never driven a Tesla.

    CarPlay became necessary b/c most car companies treated the info system as an afterthought and/or don’t have nearly the software talent that Apple could muster, resulting in years of absolutely poop in-car info/mapping systems. 

    This simply does not apply to Tesla.

    I have an Audi, and the navigation system itself is quite good once it knows where you’re going. The problem is when I’m in Minneapolis and I ask for directions to a store and it gives me directions to a store 3 states away instead of the one that’s 3 miles away.   Does the Tesla let me see my podcasts? Does it send text messages? How does the navigation system compare to Apple/Google/Waze? Will it suggest destinations based on your calendar appointments?

    A friend has a Tesla and he says “the navigation system is pretty good, and it has pandora...’ but I’m more interested in how well it deals and integrates with my library. The other advantage of CarPlay is it uses your phone, so when my wife gets in and plugs in her phone, she’s instantly got her library, podcasts, settings, etc.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 27
    shaminoshamino Posts: 501member
    My biggest concern here is that if the feature becomes popular, you're going to find people locked out of their cars because they're away from home, the phone has a dead battery and the charger is locked in the car.  Because you know people using this feature will be leaving their keys at home.
    Soli said:
    Is that NFC or is that using WiFi and/or cellular to connect to the car via the internet using the iPhone app?
    That's a really important question.  If it's a local-only protocol like NFC or Bluetooth, I'm all for it.  If it works via the Internet, then I don't want anything to do with it.  I don't want my car to be on-line where hackers can take control of it from halfway around the world.
    MplsP said:
    What do the regular wireless Key FOBs that many cars have now use? They are able to sense whether the key is in the car or not but also work at distance greater than typical NFC ranges. 
    As I understand it, they use RFID.  The battery in the fob lets it receive and transmit at greater distances than a passive RFID system.  It's worth noting that if your fob's battery dies, the devices typically fall back to passive RFID, which is why you can still start your car with a dead battery, but you may have to place the fob right up against the sensor (often behind the start button, but sometimes in other locations).

    I've also noticed that my wife's car (a 2018 Kia Sedona minivan) can tell if the fob is in the car, near the rear lift-gate, the driver-side door or the passenger-side door.  I've assumed that the car has RFID antennas in a few strategic locations in order to make this work, but I would love to know if I've guessed right or of there's something else going on.

    It's worth noting that Bluetooth has a protocol to estimate distance from the receiver.  The transmitter sends a packet that includes (as data) the power level of the transmission.  The receiver compares the received signal power (RSSI) against the level reported in the packet and does some math to approximate the distance.  It is far from perfect, but it's good enough for many purposes.  It would not surprise me if RFID and NFC have similar protocols.
    ITGUYINSD said:
    Well that just saved me $70000+ (that I don't have in the first place)!  I could not buy a car that doesn't have CarPlay.
    Really?  CarPlay is a great convenience, but that factor outweighs all other considerations when choosing a car?

    For me, I'm just as happy putting my phone on the dash (via a sticky pad or vent-mount) and use its own display for navigation.  The only feature where I really want it wired to the car is for audio playback so my music will sound good and I can do that with an analog line-in jack or USB audio, with or without CarPlay.
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