Almost a year after Apple announced that the iPhone would become your digital car key, Google is doing the same. Android 12 will officially double “select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones” as car keys later this year, the company announced today at the Google I / O 2021 developers conference.
However, it is not the case that Google is exactly late for the party, because car manufacturers are also taking their sweet time to roll out the technology. In fact, in the announcement, Google mentions only one brand – BMW – that announced earlier this year that it would work with Samsung. And the last time we checked, BMW only committed one car to support the seemingly “best” version of digital car key technology.
The ultimate goal here is to replace your bulky key fob – which allows you to get into the car without taking it out of your pocket – with your phone, using new Ultra Wideband Radios (UWB) to safely let your car know that you really state. right in front. Apple has quietly put those radios into (almost) all of its new iPhones and the latest Apple Watch Series 6, and today’s announcement presumably means the next Google Pixel will have them too. (They can also let you locate your car in a busy parking lot, which is something Samsung wants to take advantage of.)
But … whether for backward compatibility or because they cost pennies, both Google’s and Apple’s technology also support Near Field Communication (NFC), which requires you to physically take your phone out of your pocket and up against a car ticks like the BMW 5 Series from 2021. In some ways that’s actually a step back from the humble radio key fob.
Now BMW is probably not the only automaker interested in UWB’s potential: Hyundai, at least, is a member of the FiRa Consortium that specifically insists on UWB, and both Hyundai and Kia are members of the UWB Alliance also.
(Apple, Google, Samsung, LG, BMW, GM, Honda, Hyundai and Volkswagen are all on the board of the Car Connectivity Consortium also, although that group promotes both NFC and UWB in its digital car key standard.)
Whichever car manufacturers choose, it seems likely that by participating in standardization bodies and global Android support, you can use (and share) your digital car key with different smartphone brands. Samsung already announced this earlier this year during its Galaxy S21 event. Google says it will share more about standards later this year.
In other Android / automotive news, Google says BMW and Ford cars will soon support Bluetooth Fast Pair to pair your Android phone with a single tap. Android Auto itself – the smartphone-based infotainment system that’s been around for six years and competes directly with Apple’s CarPlay – has now made 100 million cars, the company says.
Google also promises that in the future the “ vast majority of new vehicles ” from GM, Ford, Honda and other automakers will support Android Auto wirelessly, without having to take your phone out of your pocket and plug it in. That’s a feature that’s been rolling out pretty slowly since its release in 2016, in part because it wasn’t native to Android phones until August last year, in part because car makers had held out on Google-powered infotainment systems, and perhaps because Android Auto was systematically globalizing the world. instead of launching everywhere at once.