Will The iPhone 5 Replace Your Car Keys?

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iphone 5 new design imageJust when you thought the iPhone 4 was the coolest gadget in the world, along comes the iPhone 5. A recent iPhone 5 rumor has it that the next generation device will have NFC (near field communication) technology – something that could open lots of doors… including your car door.

NFC technology would function much like RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) technology. RFID, which involves a tag that can be “read” via a radio transmission (sometimes from several feet away), is often used for identification purposes. RFID is already used in inventory, anti-theft devices, and even business transactions. When an RFID tag is embedded in a mobile phone, special readers in some supermarkets, for example, can find payment information by “talking” to the tag. This feature is called a “digital wallet,” and while RFID makes the digital wallet possible, NFC (explained below) makes the digital wallet probable.

RFID technology is already being used with millions of tags on millions – perhaps billions – of items all over the world. From dogs to cosmetics to Toyota auto parts, RFID is a proven and stable technology. Yet, there are security concerns with RFID that make it hard to use universally…which is where NFC comes in.

NFC is an implementation of next generation technology similar to RFID that only works over very short distances. As a result, NFC is more than secure enough to use for financial transactions. While digital wallets powered by RFID have been slow to catch on – and could conceivably be read from 20 feet away – NFC already has the endorsement of major phone manufacturers. Samsung’s Nexus S has NFC built in, as will a handful of planned devices and of course, the iPhone 5. Because NFC only works over a very short distance (about 2 inches), it’s much easier to protect from thieves.

If the new iPhone 5 has NFC, the possible uses are almost endless. The most obvious application is so-called “electronic money,” where you can pay for your next grocery bill by holding your phone up next to an NFC reader at the checkout counter. Many companies are getting on board with NFC including PayPal, Google, and SmartPoster. So, what about starting your car?

Cars that now come with electronic keys, like some Mercedes and the Toyota Prius, use RFID technology to detect if the car keys are nearby. The car will then unlock the doors, allow the car to  start, etc., with no need to turn a key. This type of system could be duplilcated on any car with the installation of a relatively simple alarm system – a few hundred dollars – and an application that enabled your iPhone’s NFC device to send out the right signal to unlock your doors, start your car, etc.

Imagine using your iPhone 5 for everything. When you walk out to the car, you put your phone next to the door handle and boom – the car unlocks and the engine starts. When you go to the grocer, you pay at the counter by holding your iPhone up next to the NFC reader. When you get to work, you could even use your phone’s NFC device to let you into the building.

With the popularity of the iPhone and the rumor that the next generation phone will include NFC, the iPhone 5 may once again raise eyebrows the world over. Not for being the first to use this new technology, but being the first to make it easy to use and practical for everyone. Let’s watch for it.

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