Phones Replace Keys in Swedish Hotel (video)

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The Clarion Hotel in Stockholm lets customers use phones as keys.

One day you’ll be able to travel the world with nothing more than your smart phone in your pocket. The Clarion Hotel in Stockholm is piloting a new program that will allow guests to check-in, open their doors, and check-out by using their mobile phones. You never have to visit the front desk. Special near field communication (NFC) sensors on the hotel doors allow you to open your suite simply by placing your phone near the lock. A very rapid magnetic signaling sequence lets the phone tell the lock who you are in less than a tenth of a second. Similar NFC systems let you check in and out of the hotel. Watch the demonstration and announcement for the pilot program in the video below. Hotel keys are just the latest in a string of access materials that are being embedded in your phone. Do we need to carry anything else?

We’ve already seen how car keys can be easily replaced with mobile phones, even for rental vehicles. Give it time and you could be calling the vehicle to you using a robotic driver. Performing financial transactions through your phone seemed exciting year ago, but now practically every bank has its own App. Once we can open doors and pay with our phones, and identify ourselves with iris scans and fingerprints, we’ll have little need for wallets or keys. The mobile phone is the only thing you’ll have to keep track of – it will be the portal to everything else. Clarion Hotel’s pilot program for keyless entry is just the latest demonstration of this trend:

Getting our phones to serve as universal access keys, however, is going to take some upgrades to their hardware. NFC requires a special magnetic resonance signaling device to be embedded in the phone. Right now there are only a few models that have NFC technology standard (most are from Samsung or Nokia), though it seems Android may be adopting it soon. No word on if or when Apple will include NFC in their iPhones. Bluetooth communications could handle similar tasks (at nearly the same speeds) so we may have competing approaches.

That is assuming, of course, that the pilot program at the Clarion proves popular. All of the companies involved in this venture (Assa Abloy is handling the doors, TeliaSonera the telecommunications, Venyon the NFC, and Choice Hotels Scandinavia the venue) seem to be referring to it as an “opinion gathering” exercise. In other words, no one is ready to make a major investment unless customers seem excited by the technology. Are hotel check-ins and keys really that big of a hassle? Maybe so, but perhaps only for those who are on the road most often.

We may not yet have seen the killer application that will fuel the transition from wallets to mobiles. Car keys, hotel keys, retail banking – these are all useful Apps, but I get by without any of them. If my iPhone could serve as a ‘tap to pay’ device like some modern credit cards, and if the government recognized digital ID cards as legal forms of identification, I might leave my billfold at home. Until then, programs like the NFC trial at the Clarion Hotel simply serve as awesome reminders of what could be.

[image credit: Kristian Älegård.TeliaSonera]

[sources: Clarion Stockholm press release, TeliaSonera press release]