By on September 15, 2017

BMW smartphone sync

Way back when the sun first rose on the automobile, hand cranking was the preferred way to start an engine. Keys didn’t really come into fashion until magneto and coil-operated ignition systems were mainstreamed. But the car key has evolved since its infancy as a finely shaped lump of metal. Modern keys aren’t even keys in the traditional sense, they’re short-range radio transmitters with a transponder chip that disarms a vehicle immobiliser.

BMW is reassessing the practical value of car keys entirely, according to Ian Robertson, the company’s board member responsible for sales. Robertson, struck with the divine sight, envisions a hypothetical world where your smartphone performs double duty — eliminating the need to lug around the extra nine grams of metal associated with car keys. 

“Honestly, how many people really need it,” Robertson said in an interview with Reuters at the Frankfurt Motor Show, explaining that drivers no longer have to physically insert their key in the ignition.

“They never take it out of their pocket, so why do I need to carry it around?” Robertson continued, adding that BMW is considering getting rid of keys altogether. “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.”

Since the industry has seen fit to bestow us with keyless solutions that require needlessly bulky fobs, not having to carry a pager-sized device would be nice. However, some of us miss the days when physical keys were more prevalent. While not the most elegant of solutions, they slotted nicely onto a ring with every other key our lives dictate we carry and used to include a small optional remote for locking and unlocking doors.

The upside is that, since so few automakers want to scale down keyless remotes to a rational size, only using your phone would free up some pocket space. However, the downside is you would be utterly stranded if your phone lost power or suffered a fatal drop to the pavement.

Robertson’s discussion indicates BMW is only toying with the idea but it has actually progressed a lot further than that. BMW’s i Remote App for the Samsung Gear smartwatch took top honors at the CES Innovation Awards in 2015. Synced to one of the brand’s electric vehicles, the app can monitor charge, regulate climate, or act as a digital key. It’s not the only automaker that’s dabbled in this technology, either. Other companies have already rolled out apps that allow owners to better-connect with their vehicles. Even the more working-class Hyundai Blue Link system allows smartphone users to remotely lock, unlock, and start their vehicle.

[Image: BMW]

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37 Comments on “BMW Executive Has Prophetic Vision of a World Without Car Keys...”


  • avatar
    Urlik

    What about the 23% that don’t own a smart phone? Hell I don’t own a cell phone at all. It’s pretty much turned into a badge of honor for me now.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Tesla’s already doing this on the Model 3.

    I don’t think I’m going to like it, since I don’t always have my phone with me.

    I’d rather be tethered to a little key fob, which is weatherproof and durable, and can fit in even the smallest pocket, than to a bulky smart phone or delicate transponder card.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I haven’t found any of my cards, transponder or bluetooth, to be delicate. I’ve only had the bluetooth card a month, but it’s rated for 1.5m for 60 minutes. The transponder cards have survived my wallet for years. If you want to go the keyfob route, maybe you could find some sort of rugged metal combo keyfob and credit card holder? Find one with enough space to hold your charging station transponder cards too.

  • avatar
    Ugliest1

    It’s nice that BMW has “a prophetic vision of a world without car keys”. It’s also nice that Tesla is already delivering it, phone connection and all, with the Model 3 (along with the backup card per previous commenter). Even the Model S and X fobs stay in the pocket or purse; the door handles open (S) or doors open (X) as you approach and when the driver sits in the seat, the car turns on ready to drive, automatically. Not to mention the phone app since 2013 allows pre-heating or -cooling, driving, etc. But it’s good that BMW is thinking ahead. And getting complimentary press on it, too. *ducks away from the Tesla haters*

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Great idea! Give every hacker, from bored teenagers to Russian organized crime, access to your vehicle.

  • avatar

    Replacing a rather indestructible metal object which accesses your car with a very fragile plastic object which must be charged to access your car is a bad idea.

    Keys are not a bad thing. Phones have enough to do already, and they mostly suck at it. Leave keys alone.

    There are many situations where you might need your car and not have your phone, have a broken phone, or a dead phone. Or how about loaning someone your car? Going to give them your phone as well? Or do they have to set up some ridiculous profile on the BMW site in order to have access?

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      They’ve already replaced the rather indestructible key with a much more destructible (and bulky and expensive besides) fob, and the more expensive the BMW gets the bigger and flimsier that fob becomes. I did a double take when I saw the pager sized, full color monstrosity that comes with whatever it is they now call the one that used to be a 7 series. Which is, I’m sure, exactly what they were going for.

      What good is an ultimate a-hole machine (all credit to stuki) if people can only tell that you’re an ultimate a-hole for the hour or so per day during which you’re actually driving it?

  • avatar
    conundrum

    ” the app can monitor charge, relegate climate, or act as a digital key.”

    I’d like to relegate climate myself, and I bet I’m not alone.

    As for BMW, MB, VW/Audi, maybe they can conquer the greatest engineering challenge as yet unsolved by the mighty German vehicle engineering R&D depts – remote start. It’s been beyond their collective abilities for two decades so far. Perhaps they should have sent spies to Japan/Korea, Best Buy or even the USA itself to see how it’s done, but so far they’ve been too proud to admit they can’t master the technology.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      Not sure if you’re serious or not…. But if you are serious, I can only shake my head at the level of ignorance here. Trust me, the Germans can absolutely master remote start technology. If you don’t understand that they choose not to equip their vehicles with remote start, then you don’t understand Germans at all.

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    Hmmm…this does present a conundrum. My phone (not a smartphone) lives in the car, as its only purpose is to make sure I don’t miss an important call while away from home. I check it every time I enter or exit the car. I do not check for texts or use bluetooth for calls while I’m actually driving. In fact, the bluetooth function in may car stays ‘off”. I don;t need a smartphone, because about 80% of my phone use is phone calls, and the rest is texting. So a smartphone makes no financial sense for me.

    My wife is a BMW loyalist (despite my pleas to buy the CAR you need, not a brand). So while I acknowledge that I am not a typical mobile phone owner in the US (although, worldwide more than 60% of mobile phones are ‘dumb’ phones: https://qz.com/217909/two-thirds-of-the-worlds-mobiles-are-dumb-phones-meet-the-company-getting-them-online/), I question how BMW will work around those without smartphones, like me, who still would need regular access to a BMW?

    What about valet services?

    Or service centers?

    There HAS to be a key function as a backup, because its not reasonable to expect an owner to leave their phone with whoever needs legitimate access to the car.

    Also, as noted above, keys are smaller than phones anyway. And more durable. Getting rid of them seems silly.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Let’s draw a Venn diagram of those who don’t own a smart phone and those who are likely new BMW buyers. Hum…no overlap.

      • 0 avatar
        newenthusiast

        Your tone of incredulity and jest is noted. But anecdotally, I would say that among lessees, the number would be insignificantly small. Among buyers? More significant that you are assuming. The avg age of a new car buyer is 53 or 54 years old in the US. That age group has far less smartphone adaptation, only at around 45-50% last time I checked. And its generally not because they can’t afford it.

        But the question remains: if they go all keyless and move to a smartphone app and/or transponder for access, how will people who are not the primary driver ever access the vehicle (spouses, techs, valet, children, etc) without the primary driver handing over their phone for the day? Would you give up usage of your phone? Will these people be forced to install the app? If the do, wouldn’t the account assigned to the app still have to match in order to gain access? how integrated is the app?

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          Well played, newenthusiast, well played. Away from urban centers where people are looking for ways to demonstrate their wealth while having less living space than some inmates; many people buying premium-priced goods are older and not interested in smart phones or apps. It seems like thousand dollar smart phones are most adored by people who don’t have the luxury of actual personal relationships.

          • 0 avatar
            mikey

            Lets see , I have an I phone 6 SE. My Grandson had to tell me that. It seems that texting is the only way I can communicate with my kids. I also use a MacBook Air..The Mac was a gift from my 40 something children .

            I would guess that I probably utilize about 20 percent of the capability of such devices.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I’m a proponent of car keys, and recommend the executive be treated for his affliction, with electro-shock therapy if necessary.

    Still, I remember a Navy buddy who wouldn’t let me drive his 1970 Ford Cortina around the base. I just stuck the key to my ’65 Impala in the door and unlocked it. I got in, stuck the same key in ignition and it started right up. He came running when I drove out the lot, but I had a pleasant drive around the base.

    I don’t know which was more fun – his expression when he saw that I could get in and drive his Cortina, or the expression on his face when his key wouldn’t even let him in my Impala, much less start it.

    Still, until the engineers are smart enough to allow the driver’s door ONLY to unlock remotely, I’ll unlock my car with a key, thank you. The circuitry never malfunctions.

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    BMW executive has prophetic vision of following in Tesla’s footsteps.

  • avatar

    “Stick ‘m up, baby?! And hand me the car keys… erh, your smartphone!”

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Thieves already prefer smartphones over car keys. Smartphones can be carried in your pocket, and sold on eBay.

      The only time anyone ever tried to steal something from me, it was my phone — and I foiled them by putting it in my pocket when something seemed off. Their plan appeared to be that one would try to distract me while the other snatched my phone from behind — but they were inexperienced at crime and not fully committed.

      This happened 2012. That was five years ago, for the over-30s among us. And it wasn’t new then!

  • avatar

    Ah, the Not-a-Key.

    All of my cars have a key…I realize that the mechanical key isn’t the car security, that is a microchip in the key itself, and that the mechanical part is pretty much obsolete…but.

    You get in the car-key in dash-and go. YOU KNOW WHERE THE KEY IS.
    You arrive…turn car off…take key out YOU KNOW WHERE THE KEY IS.

    My last few rentals have had Not-a-Key….who has the notakey ? Is it in my pocket ? Your handbag ?…etc.

    Some cars even have a cubby for the fob.

    Not-a-fan.

  • avatar
    GMat

    Good Points All.

    How dose one “Key” someone else’s car if all you have is a rubberized edge of your smart-phone impact cover…probably with one of the many different keys you will still continue to carry.

    BMW, making the world a more civilized place to live

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      We have keyless locks in our house.

      And in one of our cars.

      Being able to leave the house without fussing keys is nice!

      …And my wife refuses to buy anything with keys anymore, so this ability is mandatory!

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I’m kind of retro, but I’ve recently taken to the ancient Ford keyless entry system with the keypad on the outside of the door. They’ve been making that for, what, forty years now? When I go places, I rarely take my keys with me anymore, and just leave them in the car. My car technically wasn’t even available with it, 2010 Focus, but it’s an easy upgrade for something like $50. They make a wireless version, I bought mine on eBay, and stuck it under the side mirror out of sight. It already paid for itself. My condo door automatically locks when you leave, and I locked myself out in a rush to the pool a few weekends ago. Fortunately I keep a spare door key hidden in my car. Not sure what a locksmith call would have cost. Probably $75?

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      I’ll admit that I used to think that Ford’s keypad system was a useless gimmick, but since having a company car with one, I’m now a fan. Don’t want to carry your keys into the gym? No problem. Riding horses at a friend’s farm? Got you covered. Need to make a two-minute run into a building on a hot day, while you’re on your way back from picking up the dog at the groomer? Leave it running, and locked (however, this doesn’t work with the wireless, add-on version; you can’t unlock it while the engine is running).

      I understand how the keypad – and the smartphone option – might worry those who live in high-crime areas, but fortunately such alternatives exist for the significant number of owners can safely benefit from them.

  • avatar
    W126

    This is just solutionism at its worst, it is unconscionable that a car company would delegate the task of starting the car solely to a device that is purchased separately from the car. Idiot customers will no doubt praise this as such a huge convenience because of the enormous difficulty involved in carrying a car key, but this probably just makes it easier for criminals to steal the car. Also there’s the problem of loaning a friend your car or mechanically unlocking a door when the electronics have failed for a any number of reasons, or having a smartphone that is malfunctioning. The bottom line is that garbage ideas like this save the car company money by not having to install any mechanical locks on the car and not having to give customers keys while making the car more accessible to criminals, less accessible to customers in the event of an electronic malfunction with the car or the phone, and more appealing to people who lack the foresight to see where things can go wrong.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Since I have never owned a BWM nor will I ever own one then BMW can do whatever they want. BMW has also eliminated the oil dipstick. I have actually had a number of cars that I have kept so long that I actually wore the keys out. I use to make duplicate keys whenever I bought a new vehicle and would use the duplicates and save the originals. The last vehicle I have had where I did that is a 99 S-10 which I still own and still use duplicate keys on. I do think that BMW should at the very least offer an electronic card or similar to those who don’t have a smart phone or those who don’t want to use one to have access to their vehicles. I have a nephew in-law that sells BMWs and has tried to get my wife and I to buy one, but that will never happen. Not a fan of German vehicles especially with their higher cost of maintenance.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    BMW is really trying to catch Tesla here. The Tesla Model 3 already has this feature.

    If BMW wanted to be a technological leader, BMW could have started building the S3XY cars 10 years ago. But they didn’t, and now they’re playing catch-up.

    And now the BMW faithful are trying to tell people who don’t care that they own the abbreviation “M3″ because they used it for an obscure and overpriced trim level, and that it cannot possibly be used to refer to the Model 3”. Maybe the people who care about that should settle that on the track, LOL…

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I am not an early adopter of most technology. Currently I do not have a vehicle with keyless entry–I have rented them and do not have a problem with them. A system using a smart phone or smart device I will not buy myself, but if someone else wants it that is their choice. I tend to keep my vehicles for 10 plus years and usually buy new and will likely buy a new vehicle before all the manufacturers adopt this technology. That purchase would most likely be my last purchase. Do not want, desire, or need this technology. Unless a device makes a vehicle safer or it adds more comfort without aggravation then I really don’t need it or want it. Most subcompact base models include as much technology as I need or want.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The problem is not so much keyless is that you have to own a smart phone. We have keyless entry now on most vehicles and keyless entry in most office buildings but usually you have a key card to get in. I can live with the keyless but having to be forced to use a smart phone. Soon you will be forced to use a specific smart phone and do you lend your smart phone to someone to borrow your car? Will this system be hack proof? I think if you want a system like this then you should be allowed to have it but don’t force it on everyone. I have no problem with keyless just the system that BMW is going to use.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Also, do we end up paying royalties to Samsung every time we unlock our doors? More money can be made in charging for a service than the actual making and selling of the actual physical product. What do you do if you break your Samsung smartphone or it loses its charge? Will you need to replace your smartphone whenever a new one comes out in order to have access to your car. What happens if someone hacks your system to either steal your vehicle or to disable it so that you cannot drive it. There are some issues that need to be addressed. Maybe the key fob could be made much smaller so that it doesn’t take up as much room in your pocket or maybe a small chipped card could be provided to carry in your wallet or purse.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      NFC and Bluetooth aren’t pay-as-you-go services.

      No royalties involved. Just short-range ultra-low-power microwave communications.

      Kind of like WiFi, but drastically simpler, much cheaper, far lower power, and customized to the these sort of tasks.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Cadillac has a built in “key” in the fob for when the receiver goes haywire or the car battery goes dead. At least they anticipated those possibilities, especially since you need to get in the car to pop the hood for a dead battery.

    When the Norks/Chinese/Russians fire an EMP over North America and fry everything electronic, only old cars that were parked will be able to run. Now I’m SURE I should have charged more for my ’83 Honda.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Any vehicle with electronic ignition would be disabled in a nuclear attack. You would have to have an older vehicle with points and condenser. All our computer systems and our utilities would be knocked out as well. The Amish would survive since they live off the grid. Hopefully a nuclear attack won’t happen. Most of us are dependent on technology. Cannot work without a computer and high speed internet.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “smartphone performs double duty”

    No, I’m not giving Western Intelligence more of my information.

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