Last year Apple announced that they were working with BMW to bring a digital car key to iPhones with NFC capabilities. Not to be outdone, this morning Google announced that they were also bringing it to Android 12, also with BMW first.

With Android 12 “select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones” will natively be able to be used to lock, unlock and start your car. Google only announced one automobile manufacturers that they were working with today, BMW, but did mention that there were others as well. At this stage BMW have only stated that it will work with just one of their cars — the electric iX.

The way the new feature will work will be using NFC and ultrawide band radios to tell your car you are standing next to it — so we can assume the upcoming Pixel and Samsung smartphones will include these radios. These UWB radios can also be used to locate your car in a crowded car park. For phones without UWB radios it seems that NFC will be used to unlock your car but this will require you to unlock your phone to access the NFC chip — this seems to be more work than just having the key in your pocket and pressing the button on the handle to unlock the car.

The good news is that there is a Car Connectivity Consortium to promote inter-connectivity and a standardised ecosystem between device and manufacturers. Google and Apple are both members of it — along with Samsung, BMW, Honda, Hyundai and Volkswagen. The ecosystem is expected to allow mobile devices to store, authenticate and share Digital Keys for cars in a secure manner and will work even when the smartphone’s battery is low — there is no word on what you are expected to do if your phone runs out of juice.

Google specifically mentioned that they will support sharing of the Digital Key to others should someone else need to use your car. More will be shared on the various standards later this year. Keep an eye out for this next time you head in to buy a new car but don’t expect it to come to many cars this year or even next.