We carry them everywhere, use them to keep track of our busy lives, and feel naked without them. They’ve replaced our wallets, our diaries and our notebooks — and now the humble smartphone is about to replace our car keys too.
At least, that’s the case if you’re lucky enough to own Tesla’s flagship Model S 100% electric car.
That’s because Tesla Motors is including smartphone keyless functionality in its latest software update to the luxury plug-in. Offered as a free update for existing Tesla owners, the software — currently in final beta stages of testing — will include functionality to enable owners to not only lock their cars from their smart phone but start them too.
Like smartphone and computer operating systems, the operating system inside the Tesla Model S can be updated to improve functionality, add new features and patch any security flaws. Unlike any other car on the market today, the Tesla Model S can receive its operating system updates wirelessly, negating the need for a visit to a nearby dealership or service centre.
As 9to5Mac‘s Seth Weinstrab reports, Tesla’s latest operating system — version 6.0 — adds a number of key features to the Tesla Model S, including an enhanced navigation system with real-time traffic data, a new calendar app, custom car name, improved power management options and of course, smartphone key functionality.
Numbered similarly to computer software updates — where the integer represents a major software revision and the decimal an incremental update — version 6.0 will be a major update for all Tesla Model S cars, and will be made available free of charge to every Model S ever made.
Under current Tesla software, it’s already possible to unlock the doors of your Model S from your smartphone using the available iPhone and Android OS smartphone apps. To date however, you’ve always needed the car-shaped remote control that comes with the Model S to actually start the car.
Unlike most cars, the Tesla Model S doesn’t have a traditional start button. In order to turn the car on, a driver needs to sit in the drivers’ seat with the car’s key somewhere about their person in order for the car to switch itself on. Get up from the seat, and it automatically switches off.
The new functionality will replace the requirement for a key to be somewhere in the vehicle with the requirement for a registered — and presumably authenticated — smartphone instead. Given the unusual size and shape of the cute if impractical Model S Key, we think it will be a welcome feature.
Weinstrab also posits that the smartphone keyless integration, initially limited to Apple’s iOS, could make use of the fingerprint scanner included on its iPhone 5s and additional device integration made possible with the latest version of iOS — iOS 8.0.
In such a scenario, adding a fingerprint authentication to the Model S could help it become more secure, as well as allowing owners to leave one more device at home, carrying just their phone to gain access to their car.
Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen smartphones used as keys for cars. Many electric cars on the market today offer smartphone integration and apps which allow you to unlock and interact with your car without having the physical keys nearby.
With both iOS 8.0 and Tesla’s OS 6.0 still in beta however, we won’t know quite how Tesla’s software will work and how flexible it can be until both operating systems are released later this year.
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