Android logo on a car key.
Joe Fedewa / How-To Geek

Android phones do a lot more than make phone calls. They’re cameras, GPS navigators, credit cards, and so much more. What if it could also be the key to your car? That’s exactly what Android 12’s “Car Key” feature does.

What Is Android Car Key?

As the name implies, the Car Key feature literally enables your Android smartphone to act as the key to your car. You can lock, unlock, and even start your car with your phone.

The concept is very similar to mobile payment services. For example, Google Pay allows you to use your phone as a credit card. Simply tap it to the card reader and you can pay without fishing for your wallet.

Android’s Car Key feature is not a unique idea, in fact, Apple is working on their own version of it for iPhones and Apple Watches. Both Google and Apple are part of the “Car Connectivity Consortium,” which created a digital key standard.

RELATED: How Your iPhone May Soon Replace Your Car Keys

How Does It Work?

Android Car Key app.

Android’s Car Key feature takes advantage of a couple of different technologies. The first is Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology. This is something that has slowly been added to smartphones over the year, for example with the iPhone 11 in 2019.

Ultra-Wideband is similar to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in that it’s a wireless protocol that uses radio waves. UWB uses these radio waves to detect when other objects—like your vehicle—are in physical proximity. It’s the same technology used in the Apple AirTags.

The other technology at play is Near Field Communication (NFC), an old standard that has been in phones for a long time. This is another technology that relates to being physically close to objects. It allows you to tap your phone to the car door to unlock it.

RELATED: What Is Ultra Wideband, and Why Is It In the iPhone 11?

Which Phones and Cars Will Get It?

Unfortunately, due to the technologies used for the Car Key feature, it won’t be available to everyone, at least not right away. Google is working with BMW and “others” to bring the feature to upcoming cars.

On the phone side of things, you’ll need a recent generation Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy phone that supports UWB and NFC. Google announced the Car Key feature in May of 2021, saying it would become available “later this year.”

This is an exciting new use for smartphones as a whole. Car companies such as Tesla and Audi have their own versions of this feature, but a standardized method built-in to iPhones and Android devices makes it much easier for everyone.

RELATED: Your Android Phone May Soon Double As a Digital Car Key

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Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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