Digital car keys: how do they work, and where can I download them?

From plane tickets to payment cards, almost everything we need can now be stored on our smartphones. But what about car keys?

Digital car keys could soon allow you to lock, unlock and start your car through your smartphone, without taking out your keys.

Several companies have already launched the new technology, with Apple now allowing users to add their car keys to the Wallet app. Samsung has also announced plans to start offering digital car keys to customers in South Korea, while Google is set to begin developing its own version for select Pixel and Galaxy phones.

While digital car keys will only be available to users with compatible vehicles and devices, they could soon be rolled out more widely as demand increases.

How do digital car keys work?

Digital car keys use a combination of Ultra Wideband (UWB) and Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology that allows you to lock and unlock your car using your phone. If you have a car with enabled NFC technology, simply hold your smartphone near the NFC reader to authenticate the device. Once recognised, the car will unlock.

Owners of iPhones with iOS 15 and selected Samsung devices will also be able to lock and unlock their car without taking out their smartphone. Rather than an NFC reader, these use UWB technology to detect when you’re near your vehicle, meaning there’s no need to tap your device.

Digital car keys also don’t require network coverage to work, meaning you don’t have to worry about not being able to use them in areas with poor reception. Apple customers will also be able to use their car key up to five hours after their iPhone has run out of charge.

The new technology will only be available for users with compatible devices and car models. For Apple customers, they’ll only work with selected BMW cars manufactured since 2020, while only Samsung users in South Korea using these devices will be able to start using the new feature.

How can I download them?

  1. Check that your device and vehicle are compatible.
  2. For Apple users, open the car manufacturer’s app and follow the instructions to set up a key
  3. Place your iPhone on the key reader, then wait for your iPhone and car to pair
  4. For Samsung users, the car key will be stored in your Samsung pass, which you can register for by opening Settings and tapping biometrics and security
  5. Enter your account password, and follow the instructions to register your biometrics.

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