Google turns your Pixel 6 and Galaxy S21 into digital car keys

Android Auto Instrument Cluster Integration
Android Auto Instrument Cluster Integration (Image credit: Google)

What you need to know

  • Google is rolling out Android digital car key support.
  • The feature is only available on Pixel 6 and Galaxy S21 devices.
  • Currently, select BMW cars are the only compatible car models.

Back during the Google I/O 2021 keynote, the company announced that digital car key support would be arriving on select Android devices. Thanks to the power offered by Ultra Wideband chips, your phone and vehicle can communicate with one another while ditching the physical key in the process. Despite being announced as part of Android 12, the feature was not yet available, at least until now.

Android Digital Car Key Unlock

Source: Google (Image credit: Source: Google)

In a blog post detailing a total of ten different features that are coming to "all" Android users, Google slipped in confirmation that digital car key support is available. There are a few catches to be aware of, however, as the feature is currently limited to the Pixel 6 and Galaxy S21 series of devices. One much larger limitation is that you must be using specific BMW models to take advantage of it.

This means that you can't just go point your Pixel 6 or Galaxy S21 at just any car and have it automatically unlocked, even if it has Android Auto integration. Instead, you'll likely need to purchase a new vehicle entirely, which is a tall order for everyone at the moment, given the ongoing global chip shortage issues.

What makes digital car key support interesting is that thanks to the embedded UWB chip in the Pixel 6 Pro, you won't even have to take your phone out of your pocket. Once your phone is in the proximity of your car, it will automatically unlock.

According to 9to5Google, the feature only supports NFC at the moment, which is also available for the Pixel 6, but that still requires you to take your phone and "tap it" against the side of your car, much like you would when using Google Pay or Samsung Pay.

Now, if you're wondering what cars are compatible with this new digital car key feature on Android 12, you're in luck. According to the announcement earlier this year, all BMW cars released in 2020 and 2022 will be able to take advantage, with support for more vehicles on the way.

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Andrew Myrick
Senior Editor - Chromebooks, tablets, and wearables

Andrew Myrick is a Senior Editor at Android Central. He enjoys everything to do with technology, including tablets, smartphones, and everything in between. Perhaps his favorite past-time is collecting different headphones, even if they all end up in the same drawer.

  • I'm fairly certain this will only work with the 6 Pro and S21+ and Ultra, not the pixel 6 and S21.
  • Do people still buy cars? SUVs are the way to go!
  • Anyone else find this so annoying since BMW only just last year even supported Android Auto, and their MINI sub brand still acts like Android doesn't exist? Yet they get the feature first? #FAIL
  • It's not a matter of them 'getting' the feature first. They included it first. I don't imagine Google told other manufacturers that asked, no, you can't have it. It is interesting that BMW was the first, and I think still only, one that does the same thing with iOS.
    I am a bit curious how this is set up. If you have a proximity key for your vehicle, trying to get a new one is a PITA. How is just any random iPhone or Android being programmed for your car, and is the process secure? There are already ways to clone the RF car keys. Proximity is different. My Hyundai has that. I walk up to my car, never taking my keys out of my pocket and can push the handle button to open the doors. I push a button and it starts, fob in pocket. How is that unique pairing applied to my phone?
  • I agree. If Mercedes wanted to offer the option, they could. Doesn't the phone just broadcast a number like the key does? I have a 2016 BMW that has comfort access, where I just touch the door handle to lock and unlock it, with the key in my pocket. I also have a 2022 BMW. The difference is with the newer model I don't even have to touch the handle. I walk up to the car and it unlocks. I get 5 feet from the car and it automatically locks. So, I think the new keys must use ultra wide band, where the older keys must use NFC. Just like the difference between the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro.