No More Keys For You!

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Many new cars have push-button ignitions – no need to insert a key into a lock anymore.

But you still have a key.

Well, a fob.

An electronic transmitter that you keep in your pocket or purse. It transmits a signal to the car that unlocks it for you and also lets you start it without having to take the fob out of your pocket or purse.

But fobs may be gone soon, too.

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

“They never take it out of their pocket, so why do I need to carry it around?,” BMW’s Ian 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,” he said.

Image with BMW Ian

But is it a good idea?

That depends on your point of view.

On the one hand, 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 – which is just software, after all – will probably cost less to download and license than a physical key fob costs to replace.

Some of the fancier fobs cost more than $100 each.

It would also be easier – presumably – to install the app on multiple phones (spouses, kids, etc.) and the app could – one assumes – be downloaded pretty much any time, anywhere.

No trip to the locksmith – or the dealership.

On the other hand, if this becomes the new way to access (and start) cars, it will mean that having a smartphone becomes mandatory – if you want to drive a new car.

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 an app instead of a separate key (or key fob) entails giving the automaker access to your phone – which means giving the dealer access to everything on your phone. There will be the usual talk of security measures put in place, firewalls and such – but the fact remains that it’s possible by dint of the fact that they have access. A key fob or a physical key is a dead end, as far as your personal information is concerned. Someone may be able to steal your vehicle if they get hold of your key/fob.

But they can’t steal your life.

Third party hacks are a possible worry as well. Conceivably, the car could be unlocked – and started – by anyone who gains access to your phone.

This could be done remotely, too.

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 and which can’t be hacked. It’s true that it takes a moment to put a key in a door lock or ignition lock. But you’ll never have to worry about someone downloading your life or hijacking your car from afar. You can run an old-school physical 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.

But the main worry here is whether we’ll be allowed the option to choose the type of key we prefer – and prefer to pay for. Probably not.

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 access-by-app becoming standard – and so unavoidable.

Progress? Or another example of real-life centrifugal bumble puppy?

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24 COMMENTS

  1. Eric,

    “If your car is keyless and you park in an attached garage, don’t forget to turn off the car. Each year, people are found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in their home and the cause was a car left running in the garage.”

    According to the CDC.

    • Hi T,

      Not surprised! Particularly if the car has Automatic Stop/Start. One of the most aggravating “features” of that being the engine cuts off – as designed – when you come to a stop/park and – out of habit – you push the button to turn the engine off, but it’s already off, so the system thinks you want to start and so does….

      • These things are slow too. People have their usual slow reaction times and then the damn things have start then they can go. These things will cause traffic backups if ever in great numbers.

  2. I’ll start buying into their wondrous “smart” technology when the electronics dweebs can prove their ability to me in one of two ways. 1) An AM/FM radio that works even 50 percent as well as the “Sears Best” that I got for Christmas in 1982, or 2) one week without my phone giving itself a vapor lock trying to download some “important updates”.

  3. What happens if your phone hangs up? It’s a computer, not a simple RFID chip so it can and more than likely will crash.
    Phone runs out of battery? Does the car stop?
    Apps would have to run on whatever phone you have, so iOS, Android, Windows, and whatever someone else comes with. All the apps would have to function ‘the same’ even though the OS’s are all different in the way they function. OS updates NEVER break apps, do they? So the apps would have to be maintained diligently.
    Along your points Eric, you break your phone. You still have it and it’s still running, but the screen is mangled so you can barely make it out. Good luck.
    The idea is ‘nice’ as an option, so if you don’t want to carry your fob/key around, you can also use this. But making it “no more fob for you” is stupid.

  4. But with the app, you will be able to receive clearance (yes boys and girls – permission to travel) and routing.

    Security screening will be available via naked selfies when you use the new TSA Homeland Travel Freedom software.

    “and the willingness of a critical mass of people to assume ever-more” -obeisance- will cause Eric to write “But the main worry here is whether we’ll be allowed” anything.

  5. Keys are obviously very simple to use, so the absence of them is definitely not progress. This is just another meaningless gadget to woo the smartphone addicted sheep into more technocratic control. We have to remember technocrats want control of EVERY little detail in our lives, so stuff like this doesn’t surprise me one bit. I’m extremely terrified that so many people are willingly giving up their privacy and liberty to these creeps just so they can be wooed with the latest electronic gadgetry. It won’t be long before everybody has an RFID chip implanted in them.

    • Hi Handler,

      My attitude precisely. And I agree that chipping is coming… soon. Note the sudden uptick in news stories about people submitting to this voluntarily.

      It is not an accident.

      As a media guy who has seen glimpses of how the machine really works, I can tell you that. There is a concerted push from a central nexus. You can see this if you step back and watch things unfold.

      • eric, exactly, there is a push for total control. I’m convinced VW was singled out because they WERE the biggest automaker in the world and were pushing diesel technology. Toyota is in bed with Tesla so a small company pairing with Toyota makes sense. Toyota might end up building several automakers electrics. Sorry about no paragraphs, guess I’ll order a new keyboard. I get closer every day to reinventing my 3/4T 4WD Chevy with the 454. Change gears for 3.73 and an OD transmission and it might very well best the mileage of that Z 71, Gulp ll. Probably the OD transmission would make up the 3 mpg less it got compared to Gulp ll. 11 vs 14 is not a big gap to close. The oil companies love me even if the communistas don’t. A different cam, some massaged heads, an aluminum intake like the dual plane Weiand Team G and a big-ass old TBI would probably get me to 14 with 3.73’s and a 4L60E. Holley’s been making that stand alone TBI that “learns” for a while now. Then again, the QJ doesn’t need much of a learning curve, maybe fiddle with the primaries and go for the gold on the secondaries. Hey look, it’s a 100 mph load of cattle……ok that’s been done many times by bull haulers but still…..

    • I’m sure the RF signal will be assigned to the specific VIN of car it’s associated with and the software for the app will include a digital “master key” available to the law-enforcement types. This way, our heroes can tap out a few numbers on their keyboards and… bingo! -if your car is within range of any cell tower in the country, it can be remotely turned off. A monomaniacal, control-freak gubmint’s dream come true!

      Of course this will tremendously hamper auto thefts. It’s the other, more darker uses that give one pause.

  6. How about the fact that all these connected vehicles use the cellular network of the manufacturer’s choice? In the case of Fiat Chrysler they use the awful Sprint network. So if you’re out in the woods you might not have a good connection to the Internet and therefore not have the ability for the phone to communicate with the car. And if you decide you don’t want or need the connectivity too bad you’re paying for it anyway?

    Or how about the fact that these apps are written by automobile manufacturers, not computer software companies? So they’re all pretty bad. Bad at things like authentication (horrible restrictions on passwords that make them inherently insecure), bug filled -the Chrysler uConnect app on iOS usually took 2-3 tries to actually communicate with the vehicle and then still told me it failed, and difficult to use because it’s an app -unlock the phone, open the app, log into the app, then do what you want (maybe). Or plug in the phone to the vehicle USB port and the stupid app opens up automatically even though I wanted the music app or better yet nothing happening.

    This sort of thing always looks so great in the commercials, and if it actually worked that way it would be nice. But we’ve still got a very long way to go before we can confidently give up on the tried-and-true physical systems. Most of us have heard about the new iPhone’s facial recognition unlock system. Many might have seen the keynote where the phone failed to unlock on Craig Federighi’s face -Apple says because too many people were handling the phone prior to the demo- and he had to switch to a backup phone. I’m looking forward to version 3 of that technology, but it showed the obvious “not yet” nature of this stuff. And that phone still has a passcode entry as a backup and default after a power cycle speaks volumes. When was the last time you gave up looking for someone after viewing 3 or 5 faces? Do you think your dog stops recognizing faces after not seeing yours after 3 tries? Why should the phone give up? If the highest-tech, sexiest tech company on the planet can’t get this stuff perfect every time why should we expect BMW?

  7. I don’t like anything in my pockets. My key ring for the pickup has a door and ignition key and that’s it. I fold the keys against the ring and put them in my watch pocket. I have a small Buck folding knife, a Prince that’s tiny in a rear pocket. My billfold is in the console no matter what I’m driving. I’ve driven lots of those Dodge company pickups and just leave the fob in the pickup.

  8. I don’t know if people just don’t know or care but nearly every app on a cell phone originates with Google. Look on the terms and you’ll see even the most simple apps demand access to your contact list(really? and why is that?), your location(this is a must for some apps but not for most of them), your pictures, videos and music(no shit?). I constantly get spammed for some app and the last one and several others before it also demanded access to your sd card and by their own admission, Google could delete and add as they saw fit. Excuse me for not using paragraphs but my keyboard is on the fritz. At one time my searches were just that but now I get ads from every place that’s come up on a search. The latest was looking for an infrared scope. I had previously looked at an ATM but with a price tag of $3900 I wasn’t hot to have one on a realistic level. A buddy told me that they had a new scope that was less than a grand so I did another search and came up with a company called ATN. Wow, what a scope they have and it’s a nigh and day scope to boot. So I did a lot of reading and found out their scope was $800 and offered many more features such as BDC and stabilization plus being able to customize to any degree of time when it would upload to wifi or bluetooth. Default was when you pulled the trigger and you chose how long that lasted. Now I am overcome with ATN ads. They now compete with the products I searched for on my pickup tune-up. Instead of one being replaced by another they just add on so soon your window is a bit of information and a whole lot of advertisements. I often leave my phone at home when I’m not working(gotta have it for that, a term of employment). When I go see friends I often turned it off but last road trip it was turned back on and I was pissed. Now I just take the battery out since leaving it in and putting it in foil or a RF device made for that, it will run it’s battery down trying to connect. I haven’t had a single thing get through to it without the battery. I want to reiterate since the police are using Sting Rays they have been banned to use but continue to do so. In that vein I repeat Fuck the Po Leez and Fuck Google and the brainless masses they rode into town on.

  9. Great….. now when my wife forgets her phone in plain view in the car…. not only do I have to worry about the window being smashed and phone taken…. but the car itself also being nicked…..

  10. The fob sucks. I hate having that thing in my pocket while driving. Then you have to put in the console or on a shelf. JUST LET ME HAVE THE GOT DAMNED KEY IN THE IGNITION WHERE IT BELONGS. I won’t buy a car without a key. No personal offense intended, but real drivers don’t want a smartphone app on their phones or a key fob in their pockets all the time. It’s not normal.

  11. ” so unavoidable.” They will have to pry my old steering wheel and keys out of my cold dead hands. I enjoy polluting and gas guzzling and the effect it has on the mamma’s boys and femanazis. 😉

  12. The fob is easy – as he says, you never take it out of your pocket, and the battery lasts at least a year. No one has ever left their phone in their car? Or had the battery die in their phone unexpectedly? If the phones are that reliable, maybe they should be used to fly aircraft and run medical equipment too.

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