Google wants to turn your Android phone into a digital key

Android phone as car key
(Image credit: RossHelen/Shutterstock)

Update: This feature is now available in select countries, but only if you are the owner of a compatible BMW with a Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, or Samsung Galaxy S21

Not long from now, you may use your Android smartphone to unlock your car. Google is working toward an all-digital future where all you may need to carry with you is your phone with its efforts surrounding the "Android Ready SE Alliance." 

Google’s push is based on a hardware component referred to as a "secure element," and it’s designed to run secure computer-based tasks similar to how NFC payments work. Under this system, you'd be using your phone for a wider variety of purposes, such as unlocking your car without the need for a physical key. 

The Secure Element is also known as a Titan M chip, which has been present in all of Google's Pixel phones since 2018. As part of the Android Ready SE Alliance announced in a blog post this week, Google wants to use these elements to create a cache of open source apps meant to be used with SE chips and hardware.

The Android Ready SE Alliance has come together to debut a program called StrongBox, the type of technology that you could look forward to helping store things like digital car keys. Modules created via StrongBox use their own types of secure storage, CPU, and a random number generator for an added layer of protection. Then they communicate with the entirety of a system via the Keymaster HAL.

While this type of tech could have dozens of use cases, Google seems to ber focusing on keys and mobile driver's licenses at the moment. Mobile driver's licenses would use the Identity Credential API, which originally launched with Android 11. However, there's no Android app that corresponds to digital car keys yet, and there doesn't appear to be any in the works yet. But whatever Google decides to put forth for use with Android phones will need to support the Car Connectivity Consortium's Digital Key standard for both iOS and Android users.

Google also noted that StrongBox is available across a variety of devices: WearOS, Android Auto, and Android TV. There are also "several" Android manufacturers working to bring Android Ready SE to their own devices in the future, so this is very much a tech that's rapidly being adopted. In the short-term, we all may be looking to drop wallets and keys for a svelte mobile passport to just about everything we do. 

Brittany Vincent

Brittany Vincent has been covering video games and tech for over 13 years for publications including Tom's Guide, MTV, Rolling Stone, CNN, Popular Science, Playboy, IGN, GamesRadar, Polygon, Kotaku, Maxim, and more. She's also appeared as a panelist at video game conventions like PAX East and PAX West and has coordinated social media for companies like CNET. When she's not writing or gaming, she's looking for the next great visual novel in the vein of Saya no Uta. You can follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake.