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Android 12 gains Digital Car Key support

Select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones will make use of ultra-wideband tech to unlock and start supported cars.

Android Digital Car Key

The humble car-key fob inches toward obsolescence with the announcement of Android 12's officially supported Digital Car Key framework at Google I/O 2021.

A number of automobile manufacturers -- Polestar, Hyundai, Lincoln and others -- already offer the ability to lock and unlock the doors or start a car using your Android phone as a key. In fact, until Apple announced its own digital key tech last year, Android was the only way to ditch the fob. 

Current phone-as-key technologies most often use arrays of Bluetooth low-energy antennas to determine precise positioning and proximity of the authorized phone with a layer of encryption. Android's new official Digital Car Key framework attempts to standardize and secure the functionality, using ultra-wideband (UWB) technology -- which you can also find powering the Apple's AirTags and Samsung's Galaxy SmartTags -- to locate and authenticate the phone being used as a key, enabling access to the car's cabin, trunk and ignition without having to remove the phone from a pocket. Just walk within range and the doors should unlock; allowing the bearer to hop in and drive. For phones that support near-field communication (or NFC), the Digital Car Key also supports tap to unlock on the door handle.


Google demonstrated how the Digital Car Key feature will work with BMW's upcoming i4 EV.


One of the major benefits of using a Digital Car Key is the ability to share and revoke access to the vehicle remotely at the touch of a button. For example, you could grant a friend access to use your car for an afternoon and then revoke that access when they're done without having to meet them to swap a key. A more granular system might allow them to drive your car, but not access your trunk or vice versa.

Google is working with BMW and other car manufacturers to bring Digital Car Key to Android 12, specifically showcasing the upcoming electric BMW i4 in its keynote address. The feature will be available on select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones later this year. Google is also working to bring Android 12's newly announced single-tap Bluetooth Fast Pairing feature to BMW and Ford vehicles in the coming months, making it easy to get connected for media streaming before you hit the road.