Tesla’s Model 3 has no key – here’s how remote smartphone unlock should (hopefully) make entry seamless

One of the very interesting but mostly glossed over facts about the Tesla Model 3 is how it unlocks. Unlike traditional cars that have keys, remote button key fobs or even proximity sensing key fobs the Model 3 has none of them. Instead you use a phone auto-unlock system.

We all know that everyone (almost) carries around their phone these days – especially so a tech-savvy Model 3 owner. These phones have Bluetooth, so why not use it?

Tesla already has an excellent Android and iPhone app, so link your car and phone together and off you go.

Whenever you approach the car, the Bluetooth radio will be able to sense that you’re within range, authorise you and unlock your Model 3.

The Model 3 is more advanced than Tesla’s other models at this point – the Model S and X already have a phone unlock system in the app but it works via data over the phone network – meaning if you’re parked in an underground car park or somewhere without signal it won’t work.

The Model 3 uses a smartphone’s Bluetooth connection, which should make it a lot faster, and work without data or phone network access. It also enables the auto-unlock feature as Bluetooth can tell how far away the phone is by signal strength.

phone auto-unlock system
Tesla auto-unlock app. Source: tesla.com

The result? Each time you walk up to your new Tesla Model 3 with your phone it (should) auto-unlock.

No need to carry around an extra, bulky key fob, replace its batteries or pay hundreds of dollars to replace it if you break or lose it. If you have more than two people driving the car you also don’t have to shell out hundreds to buy extra ones either.

There are already other products out there that use similar Bluetooth unlocking systems. Some smart locks for your home like the August Lock allow you to unlock the door automatically when you approach it already.

I have been using this at home for a while now and it feels like the future. I walk up to the front door and it unlocks it for me with a pleasant beep. No fumbling with keys, no forgetting keys or even carrying them. In fact, once our Model 3 arrives I won’t carry any keys ever again!

How do you unlock the Model 3 if your phone runs out of battery?

phone auto-unlock system
Backup NFC card. Source: tesla.com

If you ever need a secondary, emergency way to get into the car there’s also a backup NFC card. You simply tap it against the B pillar of the car, just under the Autopilot camera, to gain entry.

This backup card should probably be kept in your wallet – or if you’re brave, left at home for emergencies. If you’re lucky enough to have a significant other that you can get into contact with (maybe borrow a friends phone?) they could remotely unlock the car for you too.

While some people might think moving the key to a phone is a bad idea, to me it makes a lot of sense – not just from a minimisation perspective, but from a security perspective too. If someone steals your keys you’re out of luck. If someone steals your phone you can either remotely wipe it or remove its access from the car.

Furthermore most tend to keep a much closer eye on their phone than their keys. This means that you’ll notice leaving it behind or getting stolen more. Too often people deride new technology over security concerns not realising just how insecure the existing method is. Sure, there’s potential security issues or problems that might arise with this auto-unlocking system but an old fashion key isn’t bullet proof either!

The unanswered questions about Model 3’s phone auto-unlock system

Although the new photos look very promising it still leaves a few questions up in the air.

  • How do you unlock the boot or frunk?
  • Can you buy an older style key fob if you really want?
  • How reliable is the system?
  • How will valet mode work? Will you just give them the NFC card or will Tesla have a different method?

Traditional Model S and Model X key fob. Source: tesla.com

Given that it’s such a critical component of experiencing a car hopefully Tesla has already perfected it. But Bluetooth can be finicky, especially when dealing with hundreds of different phones and unknowns. Hopefully the new feature also doesn’t drain your battery too much.

Most phones barely last a day as it is, although if you’re hopping into your Tesla fora drive you’ll be able to charge the phone up inside. It should also be interesting to see if you can assign temporary access to other accounts remotely. This could come in handy if a friend or relative wants to borrow the car.

I’m sure all will be revealed eventually once more people get their hands on Model 3 but for now it’s an interesting new development.

Do you prefer the old style key fob or the more minimal auto-unlock via smartphone? Let us know in the comments below!

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