BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

In September 2019, Apple introduced a new U1 chip into its latest iPhone models. The chip utilises a wireless technology called ultra wideband (UWB), referred to by Apple as “GPS at the scale of your living room”, and set to be the basis for many applications that will be the core of Apple products and services in the future. 

Now the tech giant has unveiled one of the first uses of its U1 chip – and it’s a collaboration with next month’s release of the 2021 BMW 5 Series. 

Apple’s U1-chipped iPhones will now be able to serve as digital car keys to wirelessly unlock and start your car. 

While digital car keys are not new (Samsung has their own version), most models require you to get your phone out and physically tap on the car door for it to unlock. Apple’s key, using UWB technology, means soon your car will know when you are approaching, and allow you to unlock the vehicle before you get to the door. 

The new BMW 5 Series will be the first motor vehicle to have this functionality, but Apple says they are working on an industry-wide standard using the U1 chip, allowing other cars to also add this to their tech specification list some time next year. 

The system will work with phones running the current iOS 13 operating system. “The upcoming BMW Digital Key for the iPhone will enable customers to just tap to unlock and easily get going by placing the iPhone in the smartphone tray and pushing the start button,” BMW said.

 “Setup of the Digital Key can be done through the BMW Smartphone App. The car owner can also share access with up to 5 friends including a configurable car access option for young drivers which restricts top speed, power, maximum radio volume and more. Management of access can be done from inside the car as well as through Apple Wallet”.

The way it will work is simple: Once you’ve paired your iPhone or Apple device with a car that supports Apple’s digital key, you simply walk up to the car to unlock it. Devices are detectable from up to 50 metres away, and you’ll be able to start your car and drive off once you get into your car with your device. 

You will not need a network connection or battery for the key to work. In fact, Apple says the system will still work for up to 5 hours after the iPhone’s power has run out. 

Apple has also updated its mapping application with information about electric vehicle charging stations, working with BMW and Ford to show stations compatible with the user’s vehicle.