Your next BMW might not have a traditional key

BMW is interested in replacing keys with mobile apps.

Andrew Krok Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Andrew Krok
2 min read

Keyless access makes the physical car key itself less important. So, why even have it at all? That's what BMW is thinking, and the replacement for the standard key would result in one less thing taking up space in your pocket.

BMW is looking into the idea of replacing wireless key fobs with a mobile app that could unlock a vehicle, Reuters reports, citing an interview with a BMW board member at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

"We are looking at whether it is feasible, and whether we can do it," said Ian Robertson, the BMW board member responsible for sales, to Reuters. "Whether we do it right now or at some point in the future, remains to be seen."

Enlarge Image

When you're trying to get three rows' worth of kids into the car, adding a key into the equation only complicates matters.


The idea is that, instead of a wireless key fob, a BMW app would allow customers to unlock their vehicles. It's unclear if the app would rely on an internet connection -- sending a request to the cloud, then beaming that request down to the car -- or if it would work with a more localized technology like Bluetooth LE or near-field communications (NFC).

The idea of ditching the key has been in the works for years now. Online-based services like GM's OnStar permit remote locking and unlocking, but it takes a few seconds for the request to make its way up to the cloud and back down again.

Using the phone as a key is also popular with car-sharing services. BMW's ReachNow, Daimler's Car2Go and GM's Maven all use apps to grant access to parked vehicles. Volvo wants to explore this space in the near future, as well, albeit not necessarily tied to any specific sharing service.

The Tesla Model 3 does away with the key entirely, as well. Using the Bluetooth Low Energy standard, a user's phone will unlock the car from its owners' pocket. It also relies on NFC keycards to unlock or start the car, in the event you want to lend the car to a friend or have a valet park it. Similarly, the supplier NXP announced last February that it was working to integrate NFC chips into door handles for a similar type of keyless access.

BMW Z4 concept struts its stuff at the Frankfurt auto show

See all photos