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Hotel smartphone "keys" are a horrible idea

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 8:53am
Stephanie Carmichael, Contributor

One forward-thinking hotel chain wants to replace those easy-to-lose, plastic room keys with a smartphone app. It’s a horrible idea.

OK, let’s back up. That chain is Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which is one of the savvier hotel options out there. Starwood is smart about making the most of new and popular technology. Last year, it announced a plan to introduce solar power energy at its hotels, which is more eco-friendly than diesel fuel and more cost-efficient than electricity. Guests can share Instagram photos and videos on the hotel’s website, and Starwood already has its own free travel app available.

Now, it’s taking that idea one step further. Starwood wants to ditch the disposal swipe keys that many hotels use in favor of a simpler option: a smartphone app that enables guests to skip check-in at the front desk and go straight to their rooms. A quick tap on iOS or Android phones could unlock the door — easy peasy. This could be the “new standard” for hotels.

I doubt it. Take a second and think about it. Would you ever consider trading your house key for an app that unlocks your front door with a digital code? Probably not. Sure, hotels aren’t as permanent as our homes, but I think most of us would be hesitant to rely on an app for everything.

See: Photos of the Day: Hotel smartphone "keys"

One obvious concern is hacking. You can hack an app or phone and obtain info on a much broader scale than you could from picking a house lock or stealing a key card. That’s one person’s info and security versus potentially hundreds.

And while a smartphone app would probably be a lot more convenient than those plastic swipe cards, which guests tend to mix up or lose, you have to factor in that some people have trouble figuring out how to send a text message, let alone knowing how to access an app to unlock their hotel room. A plastic key card is just easier to use. It won’t cut down production costs or be as environmentally friendly as a smartphone app, but you get the point.

But the biggest oversight seems to be the most obvious: What if your phone battery dies or you break or misplace your phone? Will you still be able to get into your hotel room, or will it be a huge hassle at the front desk to sort out the issue?

Mainly, this goes back to one huge problem that we’re facing as the Internet of Things era expands: We’re putting all of our data in one place and banking on not losing it. But what happens when that information is compromised, that one device breaks, or that one system fails? What’s the real price of technology? How do we enjoy convenience today while avoiding disaster tomorrow?

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