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How many of you don’t particularly like have to carry a key fob around for your car? Much like how you can store all of your payment cards in a digital wallet and then make payments on the go with your phone, what if it was possible to leave your car keys at home but still be able to drive off?
That’s a question that standards bodies like the Car Connectivity Consortium and the FiRa Consortium have been pondering. Samsung wants in on the action as well. It announced new partnerships today which will enable you to unlock your Audi, BMW, Ford or Genesis car with a Galaxy S21.
Samsung is harnessing the power of UWB to get rid of your key fob
Samsung announced during its Galaxy S21 launch event today that the company is working with these auto manufacturers to bring the digital key functionality to the Galaxy S21. The feature is expected to go live later this year.
Since there are industry-backed standards bodies working on the tech, the digital keys will be shareable across smartphones, regardless of the brand or platform. So you could, in theory, share the digital key for your car with a friend who uses an iPhone.
Samsung is also embracing the ultra-wideband technology (UWT) for the digital car keys that will allow cars and phones to communicate with one another.
The company’s description of the feature suggests that it will utilize UWB or Ultra Wide Band technology. The handset would recognize pulses of low-power energy from UWB-equipped cars to unlock the doors exactly when you reach it. NFC would most likely be the fall back and it would require taking the phone out of the pocket and tapping it to the car.
The AR viewfinder for UWB-equipped phones and cars.
The UWB tech will also make it easier to locate your car in a parking lot, a very useful feature for those who tend to forget where they parked. Samsung is bringing an augmented reality-powered viewfinder to its UWB-equipped devices for this purpose. Samsung’s UWB-equipped phones include the Galaxy S21+ and Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Samsung has also expanded their SmartThings functionality to cars that allows drivers of compatible vehicles to start and stop their car as well as adjust the climate control system.
During its digitally hosted Galaxy Unpacked event, Samsung announced that it has partnered with Audi, BMW, Ford and Genesis to introduce digital car key feature that allows unlocking of the car door using the Samsung mobile phone. The feature may be available as soon as August 2021.
The digital key can also be shared across mobile devices, regardless of brand of platform. One will be able to share car keys digitally when a friend or family member with just a few taps on the phone.
Near-field communication (NFC) technology used on the devices enables owners to ‘tap’ their phone near the door handle to unlock the car. The electronics company is also embracing the ultra-wideband technology (UWT) for the digital car keys that will allow cars and phones to communicate with one another. The car will unlock itself as soon as the driver reaches the door.
Samsung has also expanded their SmartThings functionality to cars that allows drivers of compatible vehicles to start and stop their car as well as adjust the climate control system. Using the car’s display, drivers can also control smart home functions such as temperature setting, vacuum cleaning and washing machine operation.
As Samsung and Google have worked closely together to improve the Android Auto experience, the in-car interface has become much more enhanced, supporting a whole lot of smart and remote functionalities.
The dream of using your phone to unlock your car door (instead of carrying around a bulging key fob) may be one step closer today: Samsung has announced partnerships with Audi, BMW, Ford, and Genesis to do just that, saying the feature may be available as soon as August 2021. And excitingly, those digital car keys should work with Apple iPhones and across other Android brands, too.
That’s because Samsung is part of multiple standards bodies that are working on the tech, including the the FiRa Consortium and the Car Connectivity Consortium, of which Apple is also a leading member. “You’ll even be able to share your digital key across smartphones, regardless of brand or platform,” Samsung’s Kevin Chung announced during the company’s Galaxy S21 event today.
Samsung says it’s trying to add additional car companies, too: “We’re actively working to expand our automobile partnerships with the goal of offering this feature across a wide variety of car makes and models,” the company added in a statement early this evening.
Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear which automakers will support the coolest, securest version of this tech: UWB. It uses small, standardized beacon-like pulses of low-power energy, preferably from multiple parts of your car at once, to figure out exactly where you are in relation to your car’s handle from a sizable distance away.
Samsung says with the new digital keys, “you’ll be able to unlock your car door when you reach it, no sooner, no later,” but I’m pretty sure it’s only referring to UWB there. The fallback is NFC, where you’d likely need to pull your phone out and tap it to your car, like you do with tap-to-pay NFC transactions today.
Samsung also showed off how the tech can let you find your car in a crowded parking lot, with an augmented reality viewfinder it says it’s bringing to Samsung phones — but the fine print says it only works with UWB-equipped cars and UWB-enabled phones.
Every iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 comes with UWB now, but Samsung says only the Galaxy Z Fold 2, the new S21 Plus and S21 Ultra (so, not the S21?), and the “Galaxy Note 20+” (presumably referring to the Note 20 Ultra, which has UWB) will support the AR viewfinder.
Apple is also waiting for carmakers to adopt UWB and had to roll out its own version of digital car keys with NFC to start, and only on the 2021 BMW 5 Series. But BMW announced earlier today that it’ll support UWB, branded as “Digital Key Plus,” with the electric BMW iX.
Samsung’s also introducing a UWB-based tracking tag for finding your lost gadgets later this year, though — like the car keys — it’s starting off with a less impressive Bluetooth version instead that won’t let you locate them as precisely.