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Cell phones could replace hotel, car and house keys

Like most people, I never leave the house without my keys, my wallet and, of course, my cell phone. But soon it may be possible to leave the keys and wallet behind.

The cell phone — especially smart phones like the iPhone, Google Android phones and the Blackberry, are rapidly evolving into multi-function devices that will do tasks that used to require other objects.

For example, Assa Abloy AB, which the Associated Press calls the world’s largest maker of door locks, is working with a Swedish hotel to enable people to use their mobile phones to open hotel doors. Using a radio technology called Near Field Communication; the phone is able to send out a signal to a radio-equipped door lock to let the guest into the room.

The technology should make it easier for guests to check in (you could check in online before you leave and just walk write to the room, skipping the front desk) and can provide additional security for the hotel because it would be easy to cancel access if necessary. It can also cut down on the use of those little plastic card keys which I have a tendency to lose.

But letting people into a hotel room is just one of many possible uses of a cell phone. Already there are ways to use an iPhone to replace a TV remote for users of Apple TV and the same is true with an Android phone and Google TV.

On 2010 General Motors vehicles, the company’s OnStar service is allowing iPhone and Android owners to use their phones to remotely lock and unlock their cars, start their car remotely, activate the horn and lights to help locate the vehicle and of course, contact an OnStar Advisor, roadside assistance or a GM dealer. You can even use the app to check your tire pressure, number of miles till your next oil change and how many gallons of gas you have left in the tank.

In addition to getting into a car or hotel room, you can also use your phone instead of a house key. Schlage’s LiNK line of home locks include models that you can open or lock via a cell phone or the web.

Cell phones are also now being used as medical devices. Lifescan, which makes blood glucose monitors, how offers an iPhone App that works with a monitor to allow your phone to track your blood sugar and notify your doctor if there is an issue. There are other apps that can check your pulse and one company has introduced a Blackberry application for EKGs.

In addition to leaving your keys at  home, you’ll soon be able to use a cell phone to replace your wallet. Redwood City-based Obopay has technology to enable cell phone users to send and receive money electronically. In addition to its domestic market, the company has operations in Africa and India where a substantial portion of the population is “unbanked” and therefore handicapped in their ability to engage in commerce. Even though there may be relatively few banks in parts of these regions, there are plenty of cell phones which have the capability to allow their users to exchange funds.

Last month introduced a service that allows anyone with an iPhone or Android phone to accept credit card payments. The company has a small plug-in device that attaches to the phone to allow you to swipe cards from wherever you are. The person receiving the funds pays 2.75 of the transaction cost plus a 15 cent service charge.

The service also works if you can’t swipe the card but at a slightly higher (3.5 percent) cost. It takes only a few minutes to set up an account and you can begin charging credit cards right away as you wait for the company to send the scanning device for swiping cards.

If you think about the characteristics of a cell phone, just about anything is possible. You can a unique device that you carry (like an ATM card) and a way to enter a secret code (like an ATM pin number) as well as a screen and a keyboard. Add the fact that cell phones are in constant communications with the Internet and the possibilities are almost endless.

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