Are Virtual Keys the Key for NFC?

Apple (s aapl) has secured a patent for a system that would enable consumers to use an electronic gadget — say, um, an iPhone — in place of keys to unlock their cars and front doors. It’s an effort that could finally move the needle for the short-range wireless connectivity technology known as near field communication.
As first reported by the Daily Telegraph, Apple would allow users to enter a PIN code and wave the phone over an electronic pad fitted to a door. The system would be based on NFC, which has long been envisioned (and trialed) as a technology that could power retail transactions but has so far failed to gain any real traction — due at least in part to the fact that consumers don’t see much additional value in using their phones instead of their credit cards to make payments. But replacing keychains with phones could be a very attractive proposition for consumers — and as such could encourage handset makers to finally add the technology to their devices.
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Image courtesy Flickr user BlakJakDavy.