Creative individuals with access to an automobile beware. There’s a weird thing happening with Apple Pencils, iPad Pros, and car key fobs, and I swear it’s the weirdest Apple bug I’ve ever heard of. Basically, if they’re all in the same place at once, stuff might stop working.
Apple recently updated its support page for using the Apple Pencil with iPad Pro to include a warning about wirelessly charging the Pencil on an iPad in the vicinity of a car key fob. When doing so, you might not be able to unlock your car. Here’s the warning, which is a mere footnote on the section about charging the Pencil:
If you’re charging your Apple Pencil (2nd generation) with your iPad Pro and your car’s keyless entry device (key fob) is nearby, signal interference might prevent you from unlocking your car with your key fob. If this happens, you can simply move your iPad Pro away from the key fob or remove your Apple Pencil from your iPad Pro and store it separately. When Apple Pencil is finished charging, any resulting signal interference will cease.
So this is clearly a very specific sort of bug. And if you’re familiar with strange side effects of wireless charging, you might already know that interference can be an issue with particular types of devices. Still, can you imagine troubleshooting this if you’re stuck outside of a Starbucks in the rain with $US1,500 ($2,099) worth of Apple mobile computing gear in your backpack, furiously smashing the unlock button on your car key fob with no success?
Apple didn’t explain the key fob issue in any more depth than it did in the footnote above. (I’ve reached out for further clarification and will update this post if I hear back.) However, problems with wireless charging devices and car key fobs are reasonably well reported. The Wireless Power Consortium, which oversees the Qi wireless charging standard, even issued a set of guidelines around using Qi-certified wireless charging in cars. There’s an entire section devoted to interference between wireless chargers and key fobs.
“Interferences can occur at engine start, door opening and car lock,” the Wireless Power Consortium’s guidelines read. The document goes on to explain that the wireless charging transmitter “should be installed at minimum 15 cm away from any possible layoff of the key fob, handbag or driver pockets.” Now that Apple has issued its warning, one might interpret this to mean that an iPad charging an Apple Pencil should also be at least 15 centimeters away from a key fob.
All things considered, this iPad key fob interference thing could be worse. Earlier this year, a mysterious force that was blocking car key fobs left an entire Canadian town feeling paranoid. In that case, many cars wouldn’t start, and alarms would randomly go off. There was also a case a few years ago, in Yonkers, New York, when a particular radio frequency from a DJ’s lighting prevented car owners from using their car key fobs for months before an investigator found the source of the problem. So a lone iPad user getting stranded for a few minutes seems rather minor.
This is still a super weird Apple bug. For a company that’s known for testing and re-testing its hardware to avoid embarrassing problems like this, the key fob issue must be, well, embarrassing. Apple’s admitting the problem also comes just two weeks after the company said that the long-awaited AirPower wireless charging system would never see the light of day. The key fob thing also reminds me of another super weird Apple bug that caused iPhones to lose reception if you held it a certain way. Remember Antennagate? Even Steve Jobs eventually admitted that Apple screwed up.
Don’t expect another scandal, though. This will not turn into Key-fob-gate. It’s probably a reasonably rare problem, and Apple updated its support page in order to get out in front of the issue, so the company has something to point to when people complain. So if you do find yourself standing in the rain with an Apple Pencil charging on an iPad Pro and an inability to unlock your car, throw your Apple products in the bushes and try again.