Before you leave your house in the morning, you probably check your pockets for three things: your phone, keys, and wallet. But if Apple’s (AAPL) plans for its smartwatch pan out, you might just need to make sure you have one thing on you: your Apple Watch.
As part of the watchOS 8 software update, available as a public beta in the coming weeks, the Apple Watch will be able to present digital ID cards, which will eventually include licenses, and lock and unlock everything from your front door to your car.
“This is kind of our vision for eventually replacing the physical wallet where you just have everything you need…right on your wrist,” Deidre Caldbeck, director of Apple Watch product marketing, told Yahoo Finance.
Of course, you’ll need a few additional pieces of technology to make it all work as seamlessly as Apple proposes, including the appropriate Apple Watch version, compatible door locks, and, well, a car that supports the company’s wallet capabilities.
Apple isn’t alone in its effort, either. Google (GOOG, GOOGL) is working on Android support for digital driver’s licenses and car keys. Samsung is also working on its own digital keys. And automakers still need to bring support to their future vehicles.
But with the right pieces in place, the Apple Watch could become your wallet and keys of the future.
Putting your license on your wrist
Apple has offered its Wallet app on the Apple Watch since it first launched in 2015. Users add their credit cards via the Wallet app on the iPhone, which pulls them onto the watch. Double tapping the button on the side of the Apple Watch pulls up your available credit cards, which you can pay with at any wireless payment terminal.
But the Wallet app has gone well beyond credit cards. In certain states, you can already use a digital version of your car insurance card to present as proof of insurance when you’re pulled over. And just like your credit cards, you can pull your insurance card up on your Apple Watch.
And now the company is adding ID cards to the Wallet app.
“We’re early on this, obviously,” Apple VP of technology Kevin Lynch explained. “You’ll be able to have it in your Wallet. You can see your ID there like your other cards. And then you can present that if you choose to, for example, TSA.”
When presenting your driver’s license, your watch will display information like your name, age, address, and other information based on what you’re required to show.
“Very much like how Apple Pay works, you can digitally present it, and the information can show up for the person who is looking at your ID,” Lynch said. “And we manage which information is available to which person. Kind of like you do in [the Health app].”
The concept of bringing your personal ID to the Apple Watch is incredibly enticing. I’ve found myself walking around my neighborhood without my wallet on multiple occasions figuring I could use my watch to pay for things if I needed to jump into a store, only to realize I need my license if I decide to pick up wine. Oh, let’s face it, it’s actually White Claw.
Of course, it will take time for the technology to roll out, and each state will likely have different rules as to whether digital IDs can serve as substitutes for physical copies. But New York state and even the federal government are already looking into ways for digital IDs to become a reality.
There are, however, potential pitfalls to such a move. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, points to the risk of increased ID checks online or by authorities. The organization also warns of tracking capabilities being used as part of digital ID programs.
“A digital system could enhance user privacy and control if done right — but it could also become an infrastructure for invading privacy and increasing the leverage and control of government agencies and companies over individuals,” the organization says in its report “Identity Crisis: What digital driver’s licenses could mean for privacy, equity, and freedom.”
Apple, however, says that neither it, nor the authority that provides your ID, will be able to track when or where you’ve shown it. That, though, doesn’t address the issue of increased ID checks that the ACLU warns of.
Revving up from your wrist
It’s not just your ID and credit cards, though. Lynch explained that watchOS 8 will also allow users to lock, unlock, and start their cars from their Apple Watches.
“It’s a lot of fun to be able to just walk up to your car and have it unlock and then drive,” Lynch said. “I think where we’re at right now, with this kind of keys to the world type thing that we’re working on here with Apple Watch.”
Of course, you’ll also need a car that can interact with the Apple Watch to make all of this work. That means a car that supports technologies like near-field communication (NFC) and Ultra Wideband (UWB) connections. Your Apple Watch will also need to offer those features. So if you have anything other than the Apple Watch Series 6, UWB is out.
So what’s to prevent someone from stealing your Apple Watch and making off with your car, or stealing your license? The same thing that prevents them from stealing your credit cards: your watch’s passcode. If someone manages to grab your watch, it will lock the minute it’s off your wrist. To unlock it and access your personal information and keys, you’ll need to reenter your passcode. Without it, the watch can pretty much just tell you the time.
What’s more, the Apple Watch’s unlock feature will only work close to your car, similar to your keys. You’ll also need to be seated in the driver’s seat to start your car with your watch. Essentially, it’ll be no different than a pair of keys, with the convenience of them now being a part of your watch.
What about when your watch dies? Well, then it’s time to go back to the old standbys of your physical ID and keys. In other words, you’ll still want to keep your wallet and keys nearby.
Apple’s watchOS 8 beta is expected to launch this summer, with the final release coming later this fall. Stay tuned for a full review of the update. And while it will take some time for states and automakers to catch up with Apple’s ambitions, a world in which your ID and keys live on your wrist doesn’t seem too far off.
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