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Android 12 lets you unlock your car with Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones

Google Digital Car Key
(Image credit: Google)

Google made a number of automotive announcements during its Google IO 2021 keynote, including the integration of a new digital car key feature as part of the Android 12 update.

If this sounds kind of familiar, then you're not wrong. Apple has offered its 'CarKey' digital vehicle access to users since July 2020 with the introduction of iOS13.6, and Samsung launched its own service at the start of 2021 on the Galaxy S21 Plus and S21 Ultra, after partnering with Audi, BMW, Ford and Genesis.

However, the move by Google to build digital car key access directly into Android 12 opens up the feature to a wealth of new devices and users. The feature will allow you to unlock, lock and even start the engine from your smartphone.

It also uses UWB (ultra wideband) technology, meaning that you can just walk up to your car and it'll unlock, without you even having to take your phone out. 

You'll also be able to share digital access to your vehicle with others – allowing you to easily lend your car to a friend without giving them a physical key and setting a limited period of access.

At the moment, it's unclear just how many handsets will be supported – all Google has said so far is that it'll be available on select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones when it becomes available later this year. 

We do know that Google has partnered with BMW (and others) and that the digital key feature will be compatible with the upcoming BMW iX electric car.

Look ma, no wires!

There's positive news for those who frequently use Android Auto in their vehicles – which allows you to mirror core smartphone apps onto your car’s main display.

Apps such as Spotify, Google Maps and Google Assistant are available on Android Auto, and can provide you with enhanced levels of control and richer features than some infotainment systems.

However, one of its limitations is that in many vehicles you have to physically plug your Android smartphone into your car with a USB cable to get Auto to work.

Google says more and more manufacturers – including Honda, Ford and BMW – are now offering wireless support in new cars, although just how many of the 100 million Android Auto-supporting vehicles on the road have the wireless feature is still unclear.

John McCann

John joined TechRadar a decade ago as Staff Writer for Phones, and over the years has built up a vast knowledge of the tech industry. He's interviewed CEOs of some of the world's biggest tech firms, visited their HQs and has appeared on live TV and radio, including Sky News, BBC News, BBC World News, Al Jazeera, LBC and BBC Radio 4. Originally specializing in phones, tablets and wearables, John is now TechRadar's resident automotive expert, reviewing the latest and greatest EVs and PHEVs on the market. John also looks after the day-to-day running of the site.