The Holiday Inn chain of hotels is to start experimenting with a technology to allow customers to unlock their rooms using their smartphones, rather than a traditional key card.

According to USA Today, the InterContinental Hotels Group will start the trial from next month in two of its US Holiday Inn hotels: the Chicago O'Hare Rosemont and the Holiday Inn Express at the Houston Downtown Convention Centre.

During the expected sixty- to ninety-day trial period, customers - and from the company's choice of hotels it looks like it'll be mainly business customers - will be able to download an application for their smartphone which can be programmed with a unique key capable of triggering a non-contact sensor which will open the door. It's a win for the customer - as there's no key to worry about losing - and a win for the hotel - again, as there's no expensive key to worry about losing.

The trial is based around the Crypto Acoustic Credentials technology from Paris-based company OpenWays, and relies on an "encrypted acoustic room key" which can be programmed into the application from a confirmation e-mail. An audio sensor on the door lock picks up the - quiet - warbling of the OpenWays application and unlocks the room - and the company claims that it has a patent-pending one-time-pad process which makes each audio key unique, preventing a passing patron from recording the audio and playing it back to unlock your room illegitimately.

Although InterContinental Hotels Group hasn't confirmed which smartphones are going to be compatible with the trial, OpenWays boasts that its technology works on "BlackBerry, Apple iPhone, Symbian, Google Android, Java J2ME, Microsoft Windows Mobile, and more" - which should cover the vast majority of business travellers.

Do you think an audio-based key that runs on your smartphone is a neat idea, or would you still prefer the old-fashioned key-card - or better yet, a physical key? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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