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Samsung Galaxy S21 will be a digital key for Audi, BMW, Ford, Genesis cars

The Samsung Galaxy S21 series of phones is finally here, and soon you’ll be able to use the new smartphone to do more than just text or browse social media. Samsung is working with Audi, BMW, Ford, and Genesis (the luxury division of Hyundai) to use the Galaxy S21 as a “digital key,” in place of a traditional key fob.

Digital key technology allows a paired smartphone to automatically unlock the doors when it’s near a vehicle. It also enables a car to be started and driven as long as the phone is on board. It’s similar to the keyless-entry systems already offered by many automakers, but without a separate key fob.

The advantage of this technology is that it’s completely hands-free, and allows users to share access to a car with other people much more easily than by swapping physical keys, Samsung said in a press release.

This feature is already available on a handful of vehicles, including Tesla electric cars and the Aviator, Corsair, Nautilus, and Navigator SUVs from Ford’s Lincoln luxury division, as well as the Hyundai Sonata from Genesis’ parent brand. Volvo demonstrated a digital key system years ago, but is only now rolling it out on certain models. Other automakers offer apps that can unlock a car remotely and start the engine but still require a key fob for actual driving.

Samsung’s digital key will rely on ultra wideband (UWB) signals, the company said. Short pulses are sent between the device and a paired car to unlock the door. “Precise distance calculation” will be used, Samsung added, presumably so you don’t accidentally unlock someone else’s car. Without UWB, drivers will also be able to use near-field communication (NFC), Samsung noted.

No specific launch timeline for the Samsung Galaxy S21 digital key was mentioned. The company only said that it’s working with its automaker partners to standardize UWB and other aspects of the interface. It’s also unclear whether the digital key function will be widely available, or limited to specific models. Lincoln has at least shown that the technology can be easily added to existing models, with the Nautilus and Navigator both getting the brand’s “Phone As A Key” feature as part of fairly minor refreshes.

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