Published on June 26th, 2020 | by Subhash Nair


Considering the Pros and Cons of Apple’s CarKey Tech

Earlier this week, Apple confirmed a lot of things at the Worldwide Developers Conference 2020 (watch it here). The thing we were most interested in sharing with you all was the Apple CarKey feature – an integrated iOS14 (and available earlier on iOS13 too) feature that would enable car manufacturers to allow for smartphones to unlock and start vehicles. Of course, quite a few apps already do this even on Android. The difference is that with CarKey, you don’t need an app – it’s a baked into the smartphone.

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Personally, we at (and other car blogs) are against this sort of unnecessary technological leaps, but we’re not going to go all out against the idea. After all, Apple has shown that their strange ideas often do take off in unexpected ways and eventually become the norm.

So let’s go through the viability of such a system by considering two aspects: whether the smartphone can fully replace physical keys and whether there are enough benefits to this should the worst happen.


You can’t replace physical keys all the time

Some people think that the smartphone should eventually integrate the roles of wallet and key so that you only need to bring one thing along with you wherever you go. We feel this isn’t viable, even as e-wallets become more widespread. For now, people still need to carry around their wallets for their driver’s license, identity cards, insurance cards, ATM cards and loose change. Remember, not everything can be bought using an app. Just try getting authentic keropok lekor and you’ll see what we mean.

Similarly, you can replace all your traditional locks at home with Smarthome-connected locks, but certain items just won’t cooperate in the same way. If you live in an apartment, your mailbox will probably use a standard key. Any padlocks or bicycle locks you use will need standard keys as well.

What this means is that rather than a one-device-does-all scenario, users might have to consciously think about when to bring their keys and wallet and when to leave them behind. All it takes is one bad scenario to play out and a user might see the problems behind not having a wallet and keys with them at all times.


Limited Scenarios (Beach, Hiking, Exercise)

Lately we’ve been seeing supplementary keys that take the form of activity bands cropping up from premium brands like Jaguar Land Rover. These Activity Keys usually have all the basic functions of a standard key, but are waterproof, dustproof and can be physically worn rather than pocketed. This allows users to go for a swim, a hike or for a gym session with nothing but their Activity Key. They can leave their standard car keys, wallet and phone safely locked away in the glovebox or at home.

Now, unlike an Activity Key, CarKey sits inside your iPhone and your iPhone needs to be pocketed. This makes going for a swim a little tougher to do. On a hike, you could put your phone in your pocket or in a fanny pack, but if you’re doing that, you could also bring your car’s physical keys with you, yes?

The thing is, Apple CarKey is also coming to the Apple Watch Series 5. With that in mind, it could take the role of the Activity Key and play that role more effectively as it doesn’t require the user to carry around that additional item if the Apple Watch is already regularly worn.


Security & Power Anxiety

I think the first thing on every technophobe’s mind is: oh no, this is just going to make the car easier to steal.

The second thing is probably: oh no, now if I lose my smartphone (or it gets stolen), then I can’t even access my vehicle.

The third concern is probably: oh no, now if my smartphone battery is flat, I won’t even be able to drive my car.

These are valid concerns. We’ve seen time and time again how these remote start systems and connected vehicles can be hacked remotely and modern car thieves probably have the equipment to steal a car faster with these digital keys rather than physically breaking-into and hotwiring a car.

And yes, while there is a safety blanket for the smartphone running out of power, the same was not mentioned for this function via Apple Watch. So if you go for a hike a-la-127 Hours and come back to your BMW with a dead Apple Watch (hopefully on the right arm), you MAY still be unable to drive home.


Actually Quite Secure

As for how easy CarKey will be to hack, well that remains to be seen. Apple tend to have a better record for safety. The iPhone 11 stores a lot of secure information on a separate chip, which makes hacking even tougher. It’s still risky, but we’d say the risk is a little less than if CarKey was an app on the Android platform.

As for losing your smartphone…

Yes, losing your Smartphone with CarKey will probably leave you stranded, but that’s ONLY if you lose just your phone and not your car keys.

Consider these scenarios:

Losing Smartphone & Standard car keys, higher replacement cost

If you lose your smartphone with a standard car key, you’re also stranded AND now you’ve got to make a new car key which can cost thousands of Ringgits to reprogramme at a dealership for certain brands.

Smartphone & Standard car keys are STOLEN, car at risk

If your smartphone and standard car key are STOLEN, now your car can also be unlocked and driven away. You risk losing an ADDITIONAL asset by keeping these two things seperate.

Now let’s look at scenarios where having CarKey either on your smartphone or Apple Watch could be less burdensome than losing your smartphone and keys.

Smartphone with CarKey feature STOLEN, Car is Safe

Now, if your iPhone has CarKey, that car cannot be unlocked and driven away as it’s protected by FaceID or TouchID. And even if it is accessed, then you can still use the Find My Phone feature to track the vehicle and smartphone down later on.

Smartphone with CarKey feature LOST but Apple Watch retained, car can be driven

If you’ve misplaced your smartphone but still have your Apple Watch Series 5 with you, you can still get in your car and drive away.

Smartphone with CarKey feature LOST but friend/family has CarKey access, car can be driven

Let’s say you’ve lost your smartphone, but one of your close family members or friends has access to your car via CarKey. You could find a way to contact them (borrow someone else’s phone, maybe) and they could come help you start your car up and drive home. Without CarKey, your family member/friend would have to have access to a physical spare key. This might mean an additional trip to your house.

Smartphone battery is flat, car can still be driven (5 hour limit)

Because CarKey isn’t an app, but rather built into iPhone, Apple have found a way for the feature to still work even 5 hours after your phone’s battery has gone flat. Most people check their phones every few minutes, so 5 hours is pretty generous. But if the phone goes flat before you fall asleep and you wake up 8 hours later, you may have to take the bus.

If you don’t charge your phone overnight, this might be your way to work


That’s all I have for now. There are other arguments around convenience, but we’re still not 100% clear on this. As mentioned above, we at are a little bit against these unnecessary gadgets and gizmos but in this case, we can see how there are benefits that premium car buyers might appreciate.

About the Author

Written work on @subhashtag on instagram. Autophiles Malaysia on Youtube.

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