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Reversing Sherlock

Adventures in avoiding being Sherlock-ed by Apple and building a great product.

Reversing Sherlock: Adventures in avoiding being Sherlock-ed by Apple and building a great product.

We had seen the rumors about the Apple|BMW announcement; we knew the detail of the specification for CCC and how our product complemented it while delivering digital access for the entire Vehicle OEM lifecycle and not just the keys in a wallet NFC approach that only focuses on individual car owners that was announced on Monday by Apple & BMW.

We designed our product to be flexible with the ability to augment what companies have already while giving us the ability to evolve based on market conditions and available technologies quickly. We knew all this, BUT we still waited to see if Apple would manage to do something magical that we couldn’t predict and Sherlock our product.

So how do you avoid being Sherlocked?

From the first day I used an Apple Macintosh I was hooked. The design, the products, the quality, the attitude, everything made sense and matched my expectations of how products should be. I have used their product to this day, so it’s quite unusual to be on the other side of the fence, as a product creator, using my own and the team’s beliefs and principles but also both consciously and unconsciously influenced by product experiences shaped by being consumers of Apple products. Trying to predict where they could go and make sure our product complements rather than narrowly competing has been challenging but incredibly exciting.

When we started on our Key product, we knew about the industry standards that existed including CCC, and we knew that Apple played a leading role in driving that standard forward, particularly with BMW, but we also suspected that the vehicle lifecycle was not an area for Apple to chase and saw an opportunity. We knew we had to be complementary to what they would do. We decided to focus on the OEM solution and provide integration mechanisms to the standards that Apple and others would adopt.

WWDC Keynote — Were we Sherlocked?

Apple has done what it’s best at, focusing on delivering a consumer-only experience specific to their platforms that will drive a great experience. We expected this, and it keeps the door open for Vouch and others to deliver a broader, full lifecycle-based product beyond the casual key sharing use case.

We can all win.

Sherlock Check: Turns out, on this occasion, Sherlock was busy elsewhere and we are now in a great place to ride the waves that the Apple/BMW announcement will make.

So what did Apple|BMW announce, and what makes our product, Vouch Key Automotive, different?

Apple shared the following features in a brief but super slick overview

  1. NFC based unlock.
  2. NFC based start|stop.
  3. Sharing access over iMessage to Apple Wallet.
  4. Hint towards Ultra Wideband technology support for proximity unlock.

How do we compare on those features?

1. NFC based unlock

Apple: NFC is required both in the smartphone and in the door handle of the car. This is an excellent feature to allow for flat battery devices still to be usable. It does require active use of the phone, holding it against the door.

Vouch: Vouch Key supports multiple protocols (UWB | BLE | NFC ) and standards to provide a friction-free experience: NFC for backup, should your device be drained, but otherwise we can use UWB to unlock the car on approach from the phone.

2. NFC based Start|Stop

Apple: It requires the driver to place the phone in the ‘special’ location in the car to allow you to operate it. Every time. I imagine this will get old quickly.

Vouch: UWB enables detection of phone|watch|fob in the driver seat or car. We can also use BLE or NFC as well as other OEM methods, like LF/RF or CAN IDs to embed into the app and hardware to perform start|stop.

3. Sharing over iMessage to Apple Wallet with permissions

Apple: While this is a delightful feature, it does have security risks attached, namely how do you know it went to the correct person? They may be in your contacts for close friends and family, but if you typed that number in and fudged those digits, who now has the key you shared?

Vouch: We can share access over iMessage or any messaging platform, and while we can also offer a simple one-step process that way, we prefer to make this process a little bit more robust and secure. Our link when pressed would automatically start the on-boarding process for the user into the Vehicle OEM App, e.g., BMW would have an app that would on-board the friend instantly and securely, and the sharing process would contain a visual confirmation step to ensure the correct person is receiving the key before you confirm the share.

4. Ultra Wideband technology support for proximity unlock

Apple: This is the game-changer, it will require a phone with the UWB chip, so a good reason to buy the iPhone 12.

Vouch: While UWB inside smartphones will provide excellent product capabilities that we will adopt when available, we believe programable, smart wearable fobs will play a huge role in access to vehicles (as well as other devices). Authenticated fobs can be used instead of smartphones and shared with friends or be given to valet or service technicians while retaining full control as the owner on what that fob has authority to do with the vehicle and a time-based or geolocation restriction. Existing car key-fobs have many flaws, but, smart fobs can be a game-changer. These fobs can also become a commodity item that the owner can buy and program independently of dealers avoiding the typically high costs of the current fobs.

Sherlock check. So, this shows our product can do all and more in what Apple demonstrated. Vouch Key can also do all of this now and more as I will outline below:

What did they miss?

Importantly, they did not demo all aspects of a digital key product; this is probably due to the limitations of the CCC specifications not having a full range of lifecycle capabilities at this stage.

1. Apple Watch | Wearable Control

Apple: Surprisingly, this was not shown, and perhaps they have something coming in the future.

Vouch: This is a significant gap; we believe wearables will be the window into operating your car digitally, not the phone itself. Our product allows for operation of the vehicle from the watch, but more importantly, we use the watch to surface the interactions, such as confirmation of lock when you walk away from the car, or a quick prompt to ask for permission and it can even be a quick way to check the status of the vehicle.

2. Organization Usage

Apple: Not available. CCC does not support this as it seems to be aimed at casual key sharing.

Vouch: At its heart Vouch Key is an identity platform so that we can provide access to all cars at an individual, group or entire organizational level. This provides use case coverage for manufacturer staff in plants, logistics partners, dealer fleet management, and rental or car-sharing. Ownership transfer from dealer to owner or owner to a new owner is a critical feature that we provide

3. Other Key Standards than CCC

Apple: Not Possible, the specification is a self-contained solution. Apple could, of course, choose to support multiple implementations, perhaps, but this seems unlikely.

Vouch: Vouch can be the central key/access platform and link to many different standards to provide keys. For example, we have our own key technology, but we can also link to CCC or other standards. This allows manufacturers to build the back end systems for sharing, revocation, key management, owner transfer, owner identity, rental integration, 3rd party delivery and others just once.

4. Offline Sharing

Apple: Not possible, connectivity to the server is required to share keys to friends or family.

Vouch: With Vouch Key, we can share offline without data connectivity. This is useful when in remote locations or if data coverage is an issue.

5. Car manufacturer relationship with owners and drivers

Apple: Not likely, Apple will retain control of the experience and features, no need to go to vehicle OEM app to control or configure the car.

Vouch: We believe that the car manufacturer needs to have a direct relationship with the car owner, especially when it comes to security and privacy. Vouch allows the OEM to have their owner app and offer a full experience to its customers. Establishing a secure identity and linking that identity to phones, watches, and cars can drive innovative experiences that the OEM should be able to offer.

6. Owner pairing of key to car.

Apple: Relies on an OEM app to assert the owner identity and car ownership and requires a passcode to be shared with the Apple native app or API. The car is also required to be online at the time, which can be problematic: what happens if you have a replacement phone and your car is parked in an underground garage where there is no connectivity?

Vouch: Can be performed offline with a cryptographic proof of an on-boarded identity and it’s ownership relation with the car.

Our product is focused on the entire manufacturing, logistics, sales and fleet management as well as providing an amazing experience to the car owners and drivers. Apple customers (and soon Google and Samsung) will be keen to add their car keys to their Apple Wallets, and I am sure this will pressurize vehicle manufacturers to support the CCC standard.

However, it will only be possible for cars equipped with the latest ECU hardware, and those models will be in short supply for a good while (years). Our product, while it can work with ECU based solutions, can also be used in an aftermarket situation with any vehicle, and we can either provide the hardware or leverage existing equipment to allow our solution to work. Learning from Apple, we became an end-to-end product company to enable us to drive the full experience based on the hardware innovations available to us in the market. One of those is Ultra Wideband (UWB), which Apple is getting behind for iPhone 12. Our product already supports this, and you can see more about our work on UWB here.

Perhaps the most significant difference is the identity aspect of our solution, we can securely establish and link the identity of the driver to every vehicle, and we can do that at many levels, individuals, roles and entire organizations, this allows us not only to ensure we have the correct owner of a vehicle but also establish access at a role or even organization level.

How Vouch links to CCC

OEMs will be required to stand-up CCC compatible secure infrastructure that Apple/Google/Samsung will use to provide the authority they need to sign certificates used in their keys and will provide car owners with a solution for casual key sharing to family and friends. Unfortunately, vehicle OEMs will be unable to leverage these keys for their own or even 3rd party uses (rental, fleet, direct to customer).

Our solution will allow vehicle OEMs to implement a digital access/key platform and then leverage it across all digital key use cases at an organization level for manufacturing, logistics, fleet, rental, and beyond, while still able to link the CCC users to this same platform.

Sherlock Check. I would be too naive to suggest that we have somehow managed to have Sherlocked Apple as we have come out ahead on the broader digital access capabilities. What I will claim is that Apple’s offering is excellent for casual key sharing, and customers will want this. However, as a digital access offering to the industry, there are many gaps that our solution excels in, and Apple is just not in that market.

Sherlock’s Deduction

Sherlock stayed away. We may even have predicted the landscape accurately and even reverse Sherlocked the situation, if that is even a thing, but ultimately it comes down to the point that ourselves and Apple are not in the same markets and are aiming at a different level of engagement.

We now hope to have a successful product launch. The Apple announcement has provided us with education to our audience on what a digital key is and can do, and this will make it easier for us to position our product to many companies.