Sunday, December 4

Android can finally unlock your car, but there’s a catch

Phones can do just about anything these days; You can even use them as car keys, as long as you have the right car or phone to make it work. And by right earbud, I mean an iPhone. Or it did, rather, because Google has also started to implement this feature.

Google has just thrown out a digital car key that will allow you to do all the things your ordinary key fob can do. Of course, being a completely new feature, it is not universally available at this time.

The Digital Car Key launched in select countries today, but it’s only available on Google Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy S21 phones, and it will only work with compatible BMW cars. So don’t throw away the key to your old Honda Civic just yet.

With that said, it’s about time Google put this feature in place. For starters, Apple launched a similar feature last June, with users being able to use the NFC chip in their iPhone or Apple Watch as a way to unlock or start their car. Also, Apple’s car key feature would continue to work for up to five hours after the phone has run out of power.

More recently, Apple promised that a newer version of this feature would be powered by Ultrawideband (UWB), as long as users have a device with a U1 chip. It is probably based on the new Digital Car Key 3.0 standard presented by the Car Connectivity consortium at July.

(Image credit: Google)

The automakers themselves have introduced a similar feature, powered by a companion app. Tesla is a notable example, with the Tesla app acting as a digital car key that automatically locks, unlocks, and starts the car based on proximity.

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Google hasn’t specified how your digital car key will work, though Pixel 6 compatibility suggests there’s a version that doesn’t use UWB. Because while the Pixel 6 Pro, Galaxy S21 Plus, and Galaxy S21 Ultra support UWB, the standard Pixel 6 and Galaxy S21 don’t.

It has not been confirmed which BMW cars are compatible. But it seems likely that this feature is available on the same cars that support the iPhone digital car key, which are listed in BMW website. Undoubtedly, upcoming cars, such as the BMW iX and BMW i4, will also be supported.

But that is not all. Google also allows users to set Android Auto to start automatically when you connect your phone to your car. Which I thought so anyway, but apparently I’m wrong.

On top of this, Google is adding an always-on play button to the home screen, for better eyeless control over your songs, with voice search support for music and media apps. Smart responses are finally coming too, which should make the prospect of checking or responding to text messages while driving that much less difficult.

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