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BMW announces Digital Key Plus for use with iPhone on all-electric car

BMW was the first car manufacturer to adopt Apple’s Car Key feature – enabling an iPhone or Apple Watch to unlock your car – and has now announced an enhanced version known as Digital Key Plus.

Digital Key Plus uses the ultra-wideband tech found in the U1 chip in the iPhone 11, iPhone 12 and Apple Watch Series 6

Car Key lets you store a digital version of your car key in Apple’s Wallet app. You can then unlock your car by holding your phone or watch close to the lock. This operates via NFC, so is very short range.

BMW brands its Car Key support as Digital Key. Digital Key Plus is a next-generation version which operates at longer range, and has more precise control of direction, allowing it to unlock your car without removing your iPhone from your pocket.

As one of the pioneers in the use of a smartphone as a digital vehicle key since 2018, BMW is pressing ahead with the development and popularisation of its BMW Digital Key feature, which is available to iPhone users today. In line with this goal, the premium car manufacturer will introduce the BMW Digital Key Plus, a convenient and secure way to unlock and start your car without taking your iPhone out of your bag or pocket. This latest incarnation of the service is based on Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology, the technology found on the U1 chip of iPhone.

BMW says that the precise localization also makes it more secure.

The new, additional features enabled by the BMW Digital Key Plus are based on Ultra-Wideband technology. This is a short-range, high-bandwidth digital radio technology that is characterized by an exceptionally precise localization with the greatest possible security. UWB’s precision also ensures that relay attacks, where the radio signal is jammed or intercepted, are not possible.

The carmaker says the new key system will come first to the BMW iX, an all-electric SUV with a claimed range of 300 miles. The cabin of the car – which is based on the X5/X6/X7 series – is Tesla-like in its simplicity.

The displays and controls are all stripped down to the essentials, further reinforcing the impression of an uncluttered cabin offering a place of relaxation. The technology of the BMW iX is used intelligently and only becomes visible when it is needed.

The Digital Key Plus approach is likely to form the basis of a new standard for the digital key specification, version 3.0. Both Apple and BMW are working on this as part of the Car Connectivity Consortium.

Digital keys offer a number of benefits to owners besides a more convenient way to unlock the car. If you lose a physical key, then it can be remotely de-authorized, and you can share digital keys with others on a permanent or time-limited basis if you want to allow them to drive your car. There are also processes in place when someone sells a vehicle to ensure they no longer have access to it.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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