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Use KeyMe to Make Your House Keys Digital

Rafe Needleman
Editorial Director, Yahoo Tech
Yahoo Tech

This is the coolest thing: KeyMe is a door key scanner app. With the free app on your iPhone, you can back up your house keys electronically. If you want (or desperately need) a new copy of a key, you can have one mailed to you, or you can take your phone to a local locksmith to have him make you a new key using the data you have in your phone.

To scan a key, you have to take it off the key ring, place it on a white background, and hold the camera in a precise orientation. (Key notches redacted in screenshot.)

You load keys into it by taking pictures of them. But you can’t just snap a shot with your camera. You have to take the key off the key ring, put it on a white background, and use the KeyMe app to take two pictures — one of each side of the key. So you can’t use it to surreptitiously copy a key, what KeyMe calls a “flyby” capture. Scanned keys are stored behind a password in the app.

It works surprisingly well. I scanned two different house keys into it and ordered copies of both of them. It cost me $6 per key, and they arrived in three days. (Security measure: I had them sent to my post office box, not my house.) You can get plain or fancier designs on your keys for different prices, too.

I also scanned a mailbox key, which did not work. And KeyMe does not duplicate car keys.

For house keys, the service is fantastically convenient. But here’s what amazed me: One of the the keys I scanned was 20 years old, worn down to just a hint of its original shape. It barely works in its lock. But the copy I got in the mail looked brand new, with sharp notches and peaks, and it worked perfectly. There’s some funky mojo going on in the KeyMe scanner app.

Three days later, a perfectly working (and nicer looking) version of the key is on my key ring.

It’s true that you’d probably pay less for key copies at your local locksmith shop or hardware store. But there is nothing as convenient or as cool as storing your keys electronically so you can get them whenever you need them, even if you don’t have them with you.

Having the keys stored on your phone also means that if you lose your physical keys and are locked out of your house, you have a backup. The app can point you to locksmiths nearby who may be able to cut a key from the digital template stored in your smartphone (not all locksmiths have digital key cutters). Getting the “code cut” data costs $10 from the KeyMe app, and the locksmith will also charge you for the key. But it’s a lot less than having a locksmith drive to your house and pick your lock for you.

I did have a hard time getting past the idea of storing my keys electronically. I talked with KeyMe CEO Greg Marsh at some length about this, and he did his best to assure me that the company encrypts key data and does not match it to an address unless you order a key (which is one reason to have your keys shipped to a mailbox, a neighbor, or your work address). He told me that KeyMe keeps “the bare minimum” of data required to make the app usable. You also get email alerts whenever there is “key-making” activity on a template you’ve stored.

Obviously, I was convinced enough to give the app and the service a try. I’m very glad I did. It’s excellent.

Android and Windows Phone versions are in the works.

Rafe Needleman can be reached at rafeneedleman@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @rafe​.