Author(s): Raghu Gopal
In March 2015, CCS Insight predicted that the smartphone would disrupt a key industry. The functions of the ubiquitous car key fob were being replicated by smartphone apps (see A Key Industry under Pressure). In the age of connected cars, vehicle owners are never more than an app away from their cars.
Earlier in 2017, Tesla capped its meteoric rise to be crowned the most valuable automaker in the US, ahead of General Motors and Ford. The company that was a pioneer of high-end electric cars over a decade ago had shown a willingness to break from automotive tradition.
Last week, Tesla delivered the first 30 mass-market Model 3 electric cars in a ceremony on the grounds of its assembly plant in Fremont, California. It was a pivotal moment for the young car company.
One of the more interesting features of the Model 3 is the lack of a key. To enter or start the car, the vehicle owner will need to use the Tesla app on their smartphone. The car relies on Bluetooth Low Energy to communicate with the smartphone, and it also ships with a pair of NFC-enabled plastic cards for temporary or backup access.
Tesla might be early in jumping to an app-only entry system, but it certainly won't be alone for long.
Car-makers began implementing remote keyless systems in high-end automobiles back in the 1980s. During the past decade, these systems became standard, replacing the traditional key. Now, smartphone apps are encroaching on the electronic fob, which could fade away quicker than previous entry systems. Change is happening at an accelerating pace.
Although vehicle manufacturers have been creating a link between the smartphone and the car, Tesla is the first to standardise the use of the smartphone as a key replacement. For the most part, it's a practical evolution given the smartphone's position as an extension of a person's life.
The Model 3 has created a great deal of buzz for Tesla, as evidenced by, and thanks to the 500,000 pre-orders for the car. Technology is a major driver for the vehicle, with innovations including fewer physical buttons and lack of an instrument panel meaning the car completely relies on display technologies.
The smartphone has earned another feather in its cap. As a car key, it goes above and beyond its original call of duty. This is one more task it will be performing for users.