No More Keys for You!

BMW is the first major car company publicly talking about eliminating car keys entirely. Instead, an app would be installed on your smartphone to unlock — and start — the car.

“Honestly, how many people really need it?”

That’s BMW’s Ian Robertson — referring to traditional physical keys, including electronic key fobs, which have become de facto standard equipment in higher-end cars and are becoming common features in mass-market cars as well. The fobs transmit an unlock signal — both to the car and to the ignition — allowing the driver to access the car and start the engine without actually putting a key into a lock.

“They never take it out of their pocket, so why do I need to carry it around?,” Robertson told a reporter from Reuters — referring to the electronic fobs. “Why not just put an app on people’s phones, since almost everyone has a smartphone and carries it with them wherever they go?”

“We are looking at whether it is feasible, and whether we can do it. Whether we do it right now or at some point in the future, remains to be seen,” Robertson said.

Is it a good idea?

It depends on your point of view.

Certainly, an app on your phone rather than a fob in your purse or pocket will be one less thing to carry around and keep track of. And an app on your phone will probably cost less to replace than a key fob, some of which cost more than $100 each in the event you lose one and have to buy a new one from the dealer.

It would also be easier — presumably — to install the app on multiple phones (spouses, kids, etc.) which would be cheaper as well as easier than buying extra key fobs.

On the other hand, it means that owning a smartphone becomes mandatory — if you want to drive a new car (assuming this way of doing things becomes common).

And it will mean bundling access to your car with your phone. If you lose the phone, you may also lose your car.

Another possible worry is that the app entails giving the automaker access to your phone, which contains personal data you probably prefer to keep . . . personal. If the app develops an issue, fixing it may mean handing over your phone — and everything that’s on it — to a dealer technician.

Third party hacks are a possible worry as well. Conceivably, the car could be unlocked — and started — by anyone who gains access (remotely) to your phone. Or — alternatively — you could be locked out and the ignition disabled by a hacker or by malware or just because your smartphone went dark and died.

Stepping back a bit, it’s debatable whether apps and fobs are a meaningful improvement over simple keys-in-locks that involve no electronics at all. It takes a moment to put a key in a door lock or ignition lock, but you’ll never have to worry about someone hacking your key and you can run that kind of key through a spin-and-rinse cycle without hurting it. And if you do lose it, getting a new one cut costs less than $10.

And it’d be nice to have the option. To be able to choose the type of key you prefer — and prefer to pay for.

Unfortunately, gadget mania (and the willingness of a critical mass of people to assume ever-more debt to acquire the “latest” thing) will likely lead to this becoming standard — and so unavoidable.

Progress — or another example of real-life centrifugal bumble puppy?


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3 Responses to “No More Keys for You!”

  1. Neil H Mietz says:

    I do not have a smart phone. So I guess I will not buy a BMW or any other similar equipted car.
    I will stick with my Mustang convertible and flip phone.

  2. John Carr says:

    In computer security there’s a term “script kiddies” referring to people who don’t know how to write a program to break into your system, but know how to use somebody else’s program. A mechanical lock can be defeated by a person who knows how to pick locks. An electronic lock can be defeated by anybody who knows how to find the lock picking app. Spoofing a remote that isn’t based on smartphone technology requires having the right hardware in your hand. Spoofing a remote that uses smartphone technology requires having the right app on your phone.

  3. Tom Beckett says:

    I refuse to get a smart phone. Does that mean I will be forever unable to buy a BMW-not that I ever would?? I currently have a Toyota, and yes, getting a new key is now in the $200 range. It’s a far cry from the old way-a metal key that went into a keyed lock, as in my old 1967 Dodge Dart. If I needed a new key, down to the hardware or auto parts store, 75 cents later, I was on my way.

    This may be progress, but it’s not improvement.