Fairfax Tech Talk Column

Fairfax Tech Talk Column

26.6.2020 Fairfax Tech Talk Column 204


I was a car thief once. OK, so not actually a car thief, but I remember the day when I certainly looked like a car thief. I didn’t have a dark hoodie and gloves that seem important for car thieves in the movies but I did have the one piece of equipment that was important. Blue packing tape…and I was also caught in the act of breaking in to a locked car.

The major difference between myself and a car thief, and what I had to explain to my new friends in blue, was that the car I was trying to unlock was my Mum’s car and ten minutes earlier she had given me the car keys. The same car keys that I could now see sitting on the seat where I had accidentally left them.

Back in the eighties it was easy to lock your keys in the car. Roadside assistance stats from that era showed that being locked out was more common than a flat battery; running out of fuel or a flat tyre.

As I sat through the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference keynote address at 3am earlier this week one of the many announcements made me reminisce about my brush with the law.

The Apple Digital Car Key was demonstrated during the virtual conference. Hold your phone near your car door to gain entry and then place your phone on a pad inside the car and push the start button. Accessing your car has been a technological battleground over the years. In 1980 the Ford Thunderbird introduced SecuriCode – a 5-digit keypad mounted above the door handle. The Renault Fuego introduced the first handheld transmitter on a car in 1982 and by 1998 the Mercedes Benz W220 started the smart key revolution.

The concept of using a smartphone to access your car is not entirely new. I own a car that is permanently connected to the Internet and I can use my smartphone to not only open and start my car but access it from anywhere in the world.

What made the Apple announcement significant is that the technology used is NFC (Near Field Communication). If you use a card or smartphone to tap for payments you are already using NFC. NFC is designed to work under a distance of 4cm and provide a fast and secure connection between two devices.

Remember the days when you measured the importance of a person by the conglomeration of keys hanging from their belt? I envisage a day when keys will be no more. Not everyone is comfortable connecting their car and house locks to the Internet but when the unlocking device has to be within 4cm of the lock, the comfort level increases dramatically. I already use NFC for locks in my business so this isn’t some futuristic idea that is being dreamt about in laboratories – it is already happening.

Jump forward a few years. Your smartphone will be your universal key. It will be the way you unlock your house, your business, your car. You will use it to pay for items. Log on to your computer. Cash withdrawals. Vending machines. Flight check-ins. Medicare.

Convenient? Yes. Scary? A bit.

My takeaway from the Apple announcement? Maybe not today, but certainly as we go forward, make sure your phone is always charged! Probably a good idea to have a reliable backup as well. On a bigger picture, we will have to have a lot of trust in technology companies to get the security right.

Tell me if you would feel comfortable replacing your physical keys with your smartphone at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson