BMW Digital Key: share your digital key from an iPhone to an Android smartphone, and vice versa

Are we witnessing the end of the old-fashioned ignition key? Remember in 2015, during the traditional Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, many car manufacturers presented their connected cars, and more specifically a virtual key to unlock and start a vehicle. All from a smartphone or connected watch. The first to draw were Audi with its Mobile Key program and the French equipment manufacturer Valeo with its virtual key called InBlue. The only difference between the two is the use of Bluetooth for Valeo versus NFC for Audi.

In 2018, BMW launched Digital Key, a system based on NFC technology. Stored in the Wallet of the iPhone, this allows you to open the car, on the sole condition of approaching your mobile or Apple Watch to the lock.

In January 2021, BMW, aided by Apple, offers Digital Key Plus, the new digital key which is based on Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology found in particular on the U1 chip from Apple. UWB is a very high frequency, short-range wireless communication protocol characterized by extremely more precise localization than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. It is an energy efficient technology. Moreover, it is almost impossible to intercept and hack the signal given the transmission speed.

Today, besides Apple, BMW is also working together with Google. As a result, it is now possible to share a BMW digital key on several WhatsApp-style platforms, between iPhones and Android smartphones. Previously, the owner of a BMW model had to go through Apple’s iMessage to share his digital key. It will now suffice to use the native “share” function, present on the Wallet applications – or “portefeuille” in French.

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Concretely, the digital key to be shared will be displayed for the recipient in the form of a link (sent by SMS, e-mail or messaging) to click. This will automatically be stored in the Wallet. This sharing also works via Apple AirDrop or Android Nearby Share. Security requires, an activation code (sent via another channel) must, in some cases, be entered directly into the vehicle.

BMW informs that this new function “is available for all new vehicles equipped with the BMW digital key or the BMW digital key Plus”. For the oldest vehicles, an update will be necessary, as long as they are compatible. As for the smartphones concerned, these are iPhone (running iOS 16.1 or later) and Google Pixel 7, Pixel 7 Pro, Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro (running Android 13 or later). Samsung smartphones should be compatible soon.

Car Connectivity Consortium, cradle of the Digital Key standard

If this cross-platform sharing of the BMW Digital Key has been possible, it is above all thanks to the action of the Car Connectivity Consortium bringing together car manufacturers, equipment manufacturers and mobile manufacturers. The objective being the development of the Digital Key, a protocol which aims to democratize the use of the smartphone as a car key. Thus, the Digital Key standard must allow “drivers to lock and unlock their car, and even start the engine and share access with friends or valets, using their phone”.

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BMW Digital Key: share your digital key from an iPhone to an Android smartphone, and vice versa


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