Tesla Adds Support for Apple iPhone's Ultra-Wideband Chip To Improve Phone Key Performance

Tesla adds support for Apple iPhone's Ultra-Wideband chip 7 photos
Photo: Tesla
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This week, Tesla released the first Cybertruck software update, which also introduced important changes for other vehicles in its lineup. One of these changes is the improvements to the Phone Key feature thanks to support for Apple iPhone's Ultra-Wideband chips.
Tesla has been one of the pioneers of using the phone to unlock the car instead of a key fob. As the smartphone has become more important, people have to carry one all the time, so why not use it to store the digital key to your car? Early phone key implementations relied on the NFC chip in the phone, making it work like the card key. It's a secure way of unlocking your car, at least much safer than using the relatively unsafe Bluetooth protocol.

However, Apple showed us a better way in 2019 when it launched the iPhone 11 with Ultra-Wideband (UWB) capability. One year later, Apple Watch also got a UWB chip, while Samsung added one to its flagships in 2021. Ultra-Wideband is a radio technology similar to WiFi and Bluetooth, allowing for high-bandwidth, low-energy communications using a large portion of the radio spectrum.

Its incredible advantage over previous Phone Key tech is the ability to offer precise location and tracking. This lets the car know exactly where the driver is and whether they are moving away or approaching the vehicle. It sounds like magic, but you've undoubtedly seen it in action when you used the Find My app on your iPhone to locate your AirPods or Airtags.

The first carmaker to announce UWB support in its vehicles was BMW in 2020, having developed the feature in partnership with Apple. Genesis was the first to offer a similar feature for Samsung phones in 2021, and BMW opened its Digital Key Plus (UWB-based) to Android phones in 2023. Sadly, Tesla ignored this tech for a long time and continued to use the NFC for its Phone Key option. That is, until now. With the software update 2024.2.3, Tesla also updated the Phone Key to use the Ultra-Wideband capability.

However, since UWB requires specific hardware (a UWB chip), this feature is not available for all Tesla EVs. According to Not a Tesla App, supported vehicles include the Model 3 refresh, the Cybertruck, and the refreshed Model S and Model X. The first-generation Model 3 and the current Model Ys don't appear to have a UWB chip, so it's not going to benefit from this update.

Adding UWB support to the Tesla Phone Key should eliminate situations where the car doesn't recognize the phone is nearby. Although not often, owners sometimes have to take the phone out and unlock it or even open the Tesla app before the vehicle recognizes the phone. The UWB technology can also improve or add features that rely on precise location. For instance, it could better determine the driver's profile based on who's phone is closer to the driver's seat.

Based on the 2024.2.3 release notes, you must first enable UWB support in the Tesla App by choosing Phone Key > Upgrade and following the instructions. After setup, you should keep your iPhone settings for Nearby Interactions on for Tesla. The feature can be used by those who own an iPhone 11+ with the Tesla app 4.29.5+. While some Android phones also support UWB, Tesla only offers the new feature to iPhone owners for now. Hopefully, Android support will not be far behind.

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About the author: Cristian Agatie
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After his childhood dream of becoming a "tractor operator" didn't pan out, Cristian turned to journalism, first in print and later moving to online media. His top interests are electric vehicles and new energy solutions.
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