Hilton to replace hotel room keys with smartphones

Hilton announces an initiative that will let guests access their rooms using their smartphones while relegating key cards to the history bin.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

Hilton smartphone app
Hilton will be rolling out enhancements to its mobile app. 2014 Hilton Worldwide

It felt like a minor revolution back when traditional metal hotel room keys were replaced with high-tech credit-card-style keys you could slip into your wallet for safekeeping. The little green lights and card readers mounted on doors made it seem like the future had arrived. Now that key cards are commonplace, it's time to evolve to the next tech step: your smartphone.

Hilton Worldwide announced a slew of tech upgrades across its hotel system that will turn guests' smartphones into the keys to a good night's sleep when traveling. Much of this plan centers around the ability to use a mobile device to check in and choose a specific room based on a hotel's digital floor plan. By the end of the year, this capability will be rolled out to over 4,000 Hilton properties around the world. It will work through the Hilton HHonors app for iOS and Android.

While those features are handy, the more interesting part of the announcement centers on the use of smartphones as room keys. Starting in 2015, Hilton will begin installing the technology required to let phones unlock doors, letting guests skip the usual line-waiting and check-in process and head straight for their rooms.

Information on how the smartphone keys will work is vague at best. "We have spent the past few years testing a number of different options to make this vision a reality, and we are developing proprietary technology that is safe and reliable for our guests to use, and cost-effective for our hotels to install," says Christopher J. Nassetta, president and chief executive officer of Hilton Worldwide. Hilton will likely want to keep the tech details under wraps for security reasons.

Hilton expects to have the room-key tech rolled out in the US by the end of 2015 and globally by the end of 2016. This could be a welcome development for people who are prone to losing their key cards or accidentally leaving them in the room. It will be one less item to remember to carry with you.