Mobile Wallet, My Eye: What About My Darned Keys?

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We know Google, PayPal, and the like are working to put your wallet on your phone, but what about your keys?

If you’re like me, you check for three things every time you leave home: wallet, keys, phone—tap, tap, tap. But with the growing appeal of mobile payment services like Google Wallet and LevelUp, two of those essentials are beginning to merge. At this point, few feel comfortable actually leaving their wallets at home, but we’re definitely moving in that direction—it’s inevitable, really.

It’s also inevitable that the third item in the triumvirate of essential possessions—keys—will merge with the phone and wallet. But when? And what will it look like? More importantly, what happens if you lose it?

It’s inevitable that keys will merge with the phone and wallet. But when? And what will it look like? More importantly, what happens if you lose it?

These are the first-world problems of the near-future, and several early solutions were on display at CE Week… this week. As is usually the case with fledgling markets, some ideas were just plain silly, but it’s always interesting to see what’s out there. And you can’t blame anyone for trying.

Kisi brandishes a name that makes me want to quit everything and devote myself to the noble cause of stopping—once and for all—this trend of cutesy names for tech startups. But name aside, Kisi has a pretty cool product. Essentially, they offer cloud-based building access control. Users can swipe their smartphone over a terminal, share access with friends and family, and grant or revoke employee access. All of this could help improve building security, while also limiting the number of objects you carry around with you.

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But, yes, the barrier to entry is quite high: There’s the obligatory installation, which starts at $349; the problem of being beholden to proprietary software instead of a physical key; and the process of getting each tenant in a building or employee in an office on board. And even then you haven’t solved the problem of carrying keys around with you—you’ll still have keys to your safe, bike lock, car, or office.

Another solution—with an equally irritating two-syllable name fit more for a child’s plaything than an electronic lock—is Goji. Goji is interesting because its focus is narrower than Kisi—it’s really only intended for your home’s front door. The circular console features a camera that sends users real-time images of their front door—a kind of virtual, remote-controlled peephole. Like other mobile lock solutions, owners can lock or unlock the door remotely, or set time parameters for access. It also doesn’t require an elaborate installation—homeowners can do it themselves, and they can also use their hard keys as backup.

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The downside is that it’s battery-powered, and who wants to frequently replace the batteries on a deadbolt? And no, the fact that this thing looks a lot like Hal 9000 was not lost on us. The good news is, if Hal refuses to open the pod bay doors on you, you can just ignore him and use your trusty cut key.

Goji is battery-powered, but who wants to frequently replace the batteries on a deadbolt?

CE Week also featured a number of small gadgets meant to help you find lost items, like keys, glasses, phones, and wallets. Nio is a small security console that uses Bluetooth to help you geo-locate your devices, or notify you of loss or theft—perfect if you’re like me and lose 20 some-odd keys a year.

The appeal is that it works both ways: The small Nio “tag” is hooked on to your keychain and uses Bluetooth to connect with your mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. From that end, you can use GPS to geo-locate the Nio. On the other end, you can program Nio to ping the location of your mobile device. The Nio can also ping your phone when it's separated by a certain distance, or you can put it on anti-theft mode, whereby your phone will ring if it’s moved.

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There are a lot of bases covered here, but it’s still a somewhat bulky object to carry around on a keychain. (And if keys are to merge with mobile devices in the near future, what exactly would you attach this thing to?)

Another cheaper solution at CE Week was StickNFind. These quarter-sized geo-locatable “stickers” are synced with your mobile device and can be placed on pretty much anything: phones, hats, keychains, glasses, etc. But they’re not exactly fashionable, so they’re not likely to work for attire. I think their best use is for keychains. You’ll just have to ask yourself, have you ever been so desperate to find your keys that you literally need radar to find them? The process may be laborious, but if you’re forgetful then we imagine it’d help.

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Each of the above products are working, in some way, toward a future where keys and mobile devices are one and the same. The problem is that keys and locks have been around for millennia, so they are deeply embedded in our infrastructure. It’s going to take time, effort, and ingenuity for a digital alternative to surpass the intuitive simplicity of such an ancient invention.

In the meantime, I’ll jut stick to the trusty tap, tap, tap method when I leave home.