BMW Predicts the End of Car Keys, Believes Smartphones Will Take Over

At least people will never have to worry about losing their keys.

BMW

The rapid advancement of technology has brought a lot of changes to the car industry. Manual transmissions are becoming rarer by the day, touchscreens are replacing buttons and knobs, and good luck finding anyone under the age of 30 who has heard of manually-cranked windows. Now, BMW believes car keys might be next on the chopping block. 

Because most of the carmaker's customers carry smartphones these days, and BMW has an app that can unlock cars, keys may soon become unnecessary, board member Ian Robertson said in an interview with Reuters at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show.

Smartphones can do the job instead, Robertson said, adding that BMW is looking into whether eliminating keys altogether is feasible. He also noted that keys are no longer needed to start the car, since so many cars are equipped with engine-start buttons that recognize a key fob in the driver's pocket.

BMW isn't the automaker looking to ditch car keys. Last year, Volvo demonstrated a prototype system that allowed drivers to unlock and drive cars using a smartphone app. Several automakers already have apps that can remotely lock or unlock cars and start engines.

Using smartphones as keys is about more than eliminating a redundant piece of hardware. A physical set of keys or a key fob could hinder car-sharing services or ride-sharing services that use autonomous vehicles, while a smartphone app would allow drivers to pass easily from one car to another. Many companies believe these sharing services are the future of the auto industry, especially if self-driving cars take off.

Instead of a key that unlocks one car, people could use their smartphones to unlock a fleet of cars. That would certainly make sharing services more convenient, although it opens up a Pandora's Box of privacy and cybersecurity issues. A keyless world also offers fewer benefits to people who want to continue owning their own cars. Sharing keys might be inconvenient, but that doesn't matter if you're the only one using them.