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Samsung Digital Keys | Image: Samsung Electronics Australia

Samsung Digital Key Lets You Unlock Your BMW with a Smartphone

We’ve all been there: Standing in front of our car, patting down every pocket in a frantic search for keys. But what if we told you that frantic pat-down could be a thing of the past? Sounds good, right? In the tech equivalent of a superhero team-up, Samsung Electronics Australia has unleashed its Digital Key to redefine what it means to own a set of car keys.

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Samsung Digital Keys | Image: Samsung Electronics Australia
Samsung Digital Keys | Image: Samsung Electronics Australia

Designed to work hand-in-hand with your Galaxy smartphone, this new feature is rolling out on the Samsung Wallet in Australia. This is where the tech meets the tarmac: the Digital Key can transform compatible Galaxy devices into smart keys for your ride, starting with none other than BMW.

The Digital Key isn’t just about convenience, though—it’s also about security. And yes, for those sceptical readers, the Digital Key is just as secure as your physical one. This new feature resides in the Secure Element (eSE) of your Samsung device, meaning it can only be activated on Samsung Wallet for Samsung users. And the party trick doesn’t stop there. You can even share your Digital Keys with multiple drivers. Impromptu road trip with the mates? Just a few taps on your screen, and voila, they have the key too.

Off the back of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra BMW M Edition, their alliance is set to turn your Galaxy device into a futuristic key fob. But for those non-BMW owners out there, fear not. According to Garry McGregor, vice president of Mobile Experience at Samsung Electronics, Samsung is keen to work with other car manufacturers to expand the Digital Key offerings. So, fingers crossed, you could soon be flicking your car keys into the drawer of “things I used to need.”

Samsung Digital Keys | Image: Samsung Electronics Australia
Samsung Digital Keys | Image: Samsung Electronics Australia

The Digital Key is ready to roll and now available on Samsung Wallet. The only prerequisites are an Android S(13) OS or higher and a compatible Galaxy device: a Samsung from the S20 series onwards or a Galaxy Z-Flip or Z-Fold device.

Compatible Samsung devices include:

  • Galaxy S20 series: all models apart from S20FE
  • Note 20 Series: Note 20, Note 20 Ultra
  • Galaxy S21 series : S21, S21+, S21 Ultra, S21 FE
  • Galaxy S22 series : S22, S22+, S22 Ultra
  • Galaxy S23 series: S23, S23+, S23 Ultra
  • Galaxy Z-Flip: Z-Flip 5G, Z-Flip3, Z-Flip4,
  • Galaxy Z-Fold: Z-Fold2, Z-Fold3, Z-Fold4

Oh, and then you’ll also need a compatible BMW vehicle that operates BMW Operating System 8 with optional extra Comfort Access (SA 322). And while there’s no such thing as a budget-friendly BMW, the technology will gradually become available in more affordable options. Check out the list of compatible BMW models below:

  • BMW 2 Series Coupé (G42)
  • BMW 3 Series (G20 facelift)
  • BMW 7 Series (G70)
  • BMW iX1
  • BMW i4
  • BMW iX
  • BMW X1 (U11)
  • BMW X5 (LCI)
  • BMW X6 (LCI)
  • BMW X7 (LCI)

Of course, the concept of digital keys is not as brand-spanking-new as it might seem, and we’ve actually been on this trajectory for a while. Way back in 2002, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted that a mere 5,000 cars had keyless starts. Fast forward to 2013, that number rocketed to 4.4 million, according to Ward’s Auto.

Tech titans Apple and Google haven’t just been sitting on the sidelines, watching the digital car key evolution unfold. Apple launched CarKey in 2020, allowing iPhone users to unlock, lock, and start NFC-compatible vehicles without a physical key or fob. Google wasn’t far behind, announcing in 2021 its work with car manufacturers to develop a digital car key for Android 12. With this in your toolkit, you could lock, unlock, and start your car straight from your phone.

The tech magic behind all this? Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology and NFC, or Near Field Communication. UWB allows you to access your car without fishing your phone out of your pocket, while NFC makes unlocking your vehicle as easy as tapping your phone on the door.

Samsung Digital Keys | Image: Samsung Electronics Australia
Samsung Digital Keys | Image: Samsung Electronics Australia

Although UWB technology is limited to a select few Android devices, Apple’s been bundling it into their iPhones since the 11. So if you’re in the Apple ecosystem, you’ve been future-ready for a while now, with the previously BMW-exclusive future extended to Hyundai, Genesis, and Kia vehicles as well.

Let’s not forget the precursor to digital car keys – the proximity key. Making its debut with the Mercedes S-Class in 1998 under the brand name ‘Keyless Go’, this tech made its way into affordable vehicles.

The proximity-sensing keys operate via radio waves, with cars equipped with the system housing radio antennae in the door handles that can transmit information on ultra-high and low frequencies. When the driver touches the door handle or pushes a button, the system sends a UHF signal to check for an authorised transmitter, the key fob, which responds with its signal. Meanwhile, low-frequency signals help to pinpoint the key fob’s exact location.

View at Samsung