BMW already allows you to unlock some of its cars with your iPhone, but the automaker is looking ahead to an even more ambitious version with BMW Digital Key Plus. Set to launch on the BMW iX all-electric SUV, the new system will be based in Ultra-Wideband (UWB) rather than just Bluetooth and NFC, to throw positional data into the mix.
The current BMW Digital Key allows you to use your iPhone as a virtual key for your car. It also means sharing access to the vehicle is easier, since up to five contacts can be granted their own virtual key too, through iMessage. Digital Keys can be preconfigured with limits for vehicle top speed, total available horsepower, and even how high the audio system volume can be set, and to automatically expire after a certain period of time.
BMW Digital Key Plus, however, will tap into the Apple U1 UWB chip found in the most recent generations of iPhone. The big advantage is UWB’s position-awareness: rather than just knowing you’re near to the car, your BMW will will know exactly whereabouts you’re standing; you’ll also not necessarily need to take your phone out of your pocket or bag. “UWB’s precision also ensures that relay attacks, where the radio signal is jammed or intercepted, are not possible,” BMW says.
It’ll debut on what’s set to be the German automaker’s most advanced vehicle, the BMW iX. An all-electric luxury SUV, using the company’s latest iteration of its EV platform, it promises around 300 miles of range when it arrives in 2022. Two electric motors will ensure all-wheel drive, with BMW promising around 500 horsepower and a 0-62 mph time of under 5.0 seconds.
The iX will also be an opportunity for BMW to flex its tech savvy. Inside, for example, there’ll be a new version of the BMW Operating System – previewed this week at CES 2021 – with an updated iDrive controller and a completely new UI. The system will be 5G connected, with two wide displays atop the dashboard.
Of course, not everyone who owns a BMW necessarily uses an iPhone, and while the BME Digital Key Plus will launch with support for Apple’s phone, the automaker is clearly hoping to extend that in due course. It and Apple have been working with the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), BMW says, to develop the so-called Digital Key specification 3.0 for UWB. That would then hopefully go on to become the global standard for the automotive industry, meaning other devices with UWB – including Android phones, along with smartwatches – could also be used as virtual keys.