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Smartphone Could Hold the Key to Your Room

Smartphone Could Hold the Key to Your Room

Guests staying at select Starwood hotels will soon have the option to forget about a room key and instead check in and open their door via an app on their Bluetooth-enabled smartphone. There might be some hesitation over potential security issues, however. There's also the unfortunate possibility of being locked out at 3:00 a.m. when your phone battery's gone dead.

By Rachelle Dragani TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
01/30/14 9:24 AM PT

Starwood Hotels & Resorts is rolling out a program in two of its hotels -- one in New York City's Harlem and one in Cupertino, Calif. -- that will allow customers to try a new lock system. Guests can download a mobile app that will allow them to virtually check in once they've arrived at the hotel. Then they'll be able to open their room door with the tap or wave of their smartphone instead of a plastic key card.

The app runs on Bluetooth, not NFC technology, which makes it compatible with a wide range of popular smartphones.

"Bluetooth has been making a comeback as a technology for communicating between devices at short range," Peter Crocker, founder and principal analyst at Smiths Point Analytics, told TechNewsWorld. "The Bluetooth standard has also been upgraded to Bluetooth Low Energy, so it provides the same range but does not drain the battery on smartphones or other devices."

Starwood's mobile app will run on the iPhone 4s or newer models as well as Android phones running 4.3 or newer, with the program beginning its rollout before the end of the quarter.

In addition to creating a more convenient system for travelers, the app and keyless entry system could help cut down on the waste of plastic key cards.

Keeping It Safe

Starwood's mobile app has the potential to be popular among busy and seasoned travelers, said Chetan Sharma, president of Chetan Sharma Consulting. First, though, the hotel is going to have to take steps to ensure the keyless entry's safety.

"For frequent travelers who are running short on time, it will be convenient and will be well received," Sharma told TechNewWorld.

"The issues are around security and the speed of resolution when things go wrong. There are ways to make its security more foolproof -- by having premises-based key downloads, doing a location verification using operator network at the time of authentication, better fingerprinting of the subscriber, etc.," he noted.

"They also have to ensure that the computing system at the hotel doesn't get overwhelmed by attacks or spam from outside, as well as ensuring that locks can be opened by traditional or alternate means in case of a problem like a dead battery," Sharma said.

In addition, Starwood might have to work to convince guests that a wave of the smartphone to open a door really is better than the alternative, said Smiths Point's Crocker.

"Smartphone users have not been conditioned to use their phones as replacement for credit cards, so it is just as easy to reach for your credit card as your phone," he pointed out. "This has been a real barrier to adoption of mobile payments and could translate to adoption of the keyless key. Yes, with the keyless key you don't have to check in, but this may be the only real benefit."

Widening Mobility

Starwood's efforts with mobile integration are part of a wider trend. Companies are recognizing that some of the most effective ways to drive customer interaction could be through devices, said Aaron Watkins, cofounder of Appency.

Starwood's keyless entry and the option to bypass check-in is a way of giving customers tangible benefits to downloading an app.

"Brands are starting to realize more and more that apps have to go beyond advertisements and become more functional if they are going to get the user adoption they are looking for," Watkins told TechNewsWorld.

The security and convenience barriers might stop Starwood's app from becoming widely adopted. However, if it could make the entire app -- not just the option for keyless entry -- compelling, Starwood would have a great chance to use mobility to drive user engagement long after the guest was gone, said Watkins.

"They should consider enhancing the room key app to something that provides long-term value for the user so that the app does not become something you delete as soon as your stay is over," he suggested. "By adding things like hotel reward points, concierge services and notifications about special deals, the consumer will leave the app on the phone long-term and potentially open themselves up to a two-way dialog with the brand."


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