For those with modern cars (looking at you Tesla owners) you’ve probably long forgotten about what keys are, as your phone plays the role a security token to verify you’re the owner.
Today during Google I/O, the next version Android was announced and Google revealed plans to support a protocol that would enable Phone Keys for more phones and more vehicle models.
Today, Android Auto is available in more than 100 million cars and the vast majority of new vehicles from loved brands like GM, Ford, Honda and more will support Android Auto wireless.
Google says a new digital car key in Android 12, you’ll be able to lock, unlock and even start your car from your phone.
This is achieved with Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology, you won’t even have to take your phone out to use it as a car key. And for NFC-enabled car models, it’s as easy as tapping your phone on the car door to unlock it. Since it’s all digital, you can also securely and remotely share your car key with friends and family if they need to borrow your car.
Starting later this year, digital car keys will become available on select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones. We’re working with BMW and others to bring this to their upcoming cars.
Ok so here are the problems I have with this announcement. Firstly, you have to buy a new car to get one and most people upgrade cars infrequently, every few years at best, so unless you’re already in the market for a new ride, you’re out of luck. Even if you are, it’ll be many, many years before automakers implement this technology in every vehicle in their lineup.
Assuming Samsung does manage to roll out Android 12 in record time (later this year), there will be millions of people with capable phones, but they’ll need to wait for the auto industry.
Car development cycles typically take somewhere between 3-6 years, which means even if an automotive manufacturer was incredibly excited by this opportunity to delight potential owners, they’d need to start integration work today. At very best it’s likely those new cars aren’t in the market till 2023/24.
The exception to this could be BMW who have clearly worked with Google, to be part of today’s announcement.
What I can say is that the experience of walking up, getting in your car and having a completely friction free entry and exit really is an exceptional experience. It feels like you’ve outsourced the security of your vehicle to someone else and you simply get to use it.
Having digital keys also opens up the possibility of transferring access, something we’ve seen Tesla offer through the account page on their website. After entering another driver’s email, they receive an email inviting them to download and sign into the Tesla Mobile App, which again acts as their key to access the vehicle.
Of course the security of a feature like this is paramount and we’re going to assume Google has this sorted.
This announcement comes after Apple announced iPhones will become Car Keys, also joined by BMW for the announcement.
As we think back to how the adoption of Android Auto and Apple Car Play happened, it was slow at first, but eventually most rose the white flag, admitted defeat that their infotainment options sucked and handed the reigns over to the more agile mobile platforms.
I’m really keen to see automakers and mobile operators (Google and Apple) work together for the benefit of users and the feature really is delightful and leaving your keys behind really does feel like you’re living in the future.
If you missed it, you can watch the full Google I/O 2021 keynote below.