BMW’s Digital Key Plus will let iPhones unlock the iX from a pocket or bag

BMW has announced an upgraded version of its mobile car key technology dubbed Digital Key Plus. It promises to allow iPhone owners to unlock select BMW cars without having to take out their phones. The feature relies on ultra wideband (UWB) which has been included in Apple’s flagship iPhones since the iPhone 11 thanks to the U1 chip. Digital Key Plus will debut on the all-electric BMW iX which launches later this year in Europe and next year in the US.

The big benefit of Digital Key Plus, according to BMW, is that it uses UWB so it works with an iPhone that’s still in your pocket or bag. In contrast, the current Digital Key system used by Apple and BMW is NFC based, so you have to hold an iPhone (or Apple Watch) near the car’s tag to unlock it. BMW also emphasizes the security of its new UWB approach, noting that it’s resistant to relay attacks that might try and jam or intercept its signal and offers “the greatest possible security.”

At present, only a limited number of iPhones include the U1 chip that offers UWB support. It debuted in the iPhone 11 and was later included in the iPhone 12, but was missing from the budget iPhone SE 2020 that released early last year. The U1 chip was also included on the Apple Watch Series 6, released last year.

Apple built support for digital car keys into iOS with version 13.6 last year, following its announcement at WWDC 2020. MacRumors notes that BMW is currently the only car manufacturer to use the technology, though Business Korea reports that Hyundai has plans to adopt the feature later this year.

There’s a push to make UWB a standard for digital keys. When it announced support for digital car keys in June last year, Apple said it was working on an industry-wide standard that would use its U1 chip. In today’s announcement, BMW says it’s working with Apple and the Car Connectivity Consortium to build UWB support into version 3.0 of the Digital Key specification.

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