Android Will Soon Get Digital Car Keys

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It’s the only screenshot we have of Android’s Digital Car Key ability, and it seems we’ll see it as soon as the Pixel 6 gets launched. 
Image: Google – The debut is expected to take place at the Pixel 6 event next week, according to hints. Ahead of its introduction next week, Google’s Pixel 6 smartphone is generating a lot of hype for its look and capabilities, but the launch might also mark the official debut of Android’s digital vehicle key compatibility.

Though we’ve known about digital vehicle keys being baked into Android 12 since the beta began, XDA Developers spotted an upgrade to Google Play services that implies the ability to connect your car key to your phone is just around the way. Multiple lines of code appear to be relevant in the update, including lines that allude to using NFC to unlock a car.

The coding also implies that the functionality will initially be limited in scope. That’s to be anticipated, given Google’s proclivity for releasing new features in limited markets before expanding them to the rest of the world.

Users will receive prompts for setting up the digital vehicle key functionality as it becomes available. Before you can use it, you’ll need to install a particular digital vehicle key service and set up a password-protected lock screen using Google Pay credentials.

Google revealed its adoption of digital vehicle keys at Google I/O when it expanded its proprietary Fast Pair capability, which uses Bluetooth Low Energy to rapidly identify previously linked devices, however the firm did not specify when we should expect to see digital car keys in action.

Through UWB (ultra-wideband) technology and NFC, Google collaborated with automobile manufacturers to make the digital key a reality. Ultra-wideband, which has a range of up to 100 feet, is still being included into more smartphones and luxury car models, whereas NFC has a shorter range and needs you to touch your phone on a physical access point. It’s comparable to the difference between using a wireless keyfob to unlock a car from afar and using a traditional metal car key. There are rumors that Google’s Pixel 6 launch event on October 19 will be the formal unveiling of the digital vehicle key feature. The Pixel 6 Pro, Google’s premium model, appears to be the most likely to feature the UWB unlocking method.

Google and Apple have teased the possibility to unlock your car with just your smartphone for a long time, and it now appears to be closer than ever. While the UWB technology that allows it is only available on a few Android smartphones, Apple has included it in every iPhone since the iPhone 11. Google only lists BMW as a partner, thus vehicle support is similarly restricted (though that could change). While digital vehicle keys aren’t a perfect substitute for physical ones, this appears to be the first concrete indication that, for better or worse, we’ll soon be able to leave the home with nothing but a smartphone.