The Future of Car Keys

Posted by Alana Morris on

With the new release of the iPhone Digital Car Key app, among talk of other vehicle manufacturers looking into ways to move towards digital, one might ask - will car keys soon become a thing of the past?

The iPhone Digital Car Key

BMW is currently the only manufacturer who has compatibility with the Apple Digital Car Key app, and the app is only available for users of iOS 13.6 or higher. In addition, only the 2021 BMW 5 Series is set to have this technology, though we can only assume this will open the floodgates for true keyless technology. 

Some cool features (beyond using your phone to get into and start your car) include being able to share your car key via iMessage, and the ability to control features for users such as stereo volume, maximum speed, and acceleration levels. 

What if the battery dies?

Apple has enabled a few features that will help users to feel more at ease relying on technology for their vehicle access. The app is said to function even without network connection, so if you are somewhere without service you will still be able to enter your vehicle. It is also supposed to work for up to 5 hours after your battery runs out. But what if you lose your phone? If you lose your car keys it is fairly easy to find a locksmith who can cut and program a new key for you on the spot, usually for between $100-$500 depending on the make and model. In this new phone-centric world, will we have to Uber to the Apple Store and spend $600-$1000 just so we can use our car? These questions then still make us wonder - can we really go without physical keys? 

 Car Key Access From Smart Phone

Beyond the iPhone

BMW is certainly not the first manufacturer to go in this direction, though they are the first to partner with Apple. The Tesla Model 3 does not come with a car key - instead owners receive a "keycard" similar to what one might use to enter a hotel room, as well as a smartphone app. 

The new Lincoln Aviator also comes equipped with "Phone as a Key" technology, allowing drivers to enter and start the vehicle with nothing more than their phone. The manufacturer has included a keypad on the exterior for easy access should the phone be lost, stolen, or out of battery. Hyundai also has a "digital key" app, and Nissan has "NissanConnect".

A handful of car sharing programs have also gone digital, allowing those renting a car to enter the vehicle through an app, though most of these vehicles still have a key (or two) hidden within the vehicle so it can start. 

A Gradual Evolution

The phasing out of the car key isn't something new. Many vehicles are using technology that enables car owners to simply have the key in their pocket or bag in order to enter and start the vehicle. Examples of this technology include the PEPS (passive entry passive start) systems, Keyless Go Systems, and Comfort Access Systems. As these systems use a "push button" ignition, a car key no longer needs to look like a car key, as we see manufacturers use their imagination to shape and create their new key styles. In a sense, this is exactly the trend we see using smart phones as vehicle access systems. However, the question remains, how secure are these systems, and what types of problems might we encounter relying on them? 


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