Chicago office moves access control to Apple Wallet

Ditching both physical key cards and access control through building apps, Chicago’s 167 Green Street has become one of the first US offices to use Apple Wallet as a key throughout the building.

Developer Shapack Partners, working with European proptech company Sharry and HID Global, created an employee badge that can unlock office doors, turnstiles, elevators and amenity spaces without having to open an app or take out a key card.

Unlike most mobile unlocking systems, which use Bluetooth, Apple Wallet uses a phone’s faster NFC (near-field communication) connection.

Tenants simply tap their phone – or Apple Watch – on the card reader and walk in. Using NFC also allows users to unlock doors with their phone even if the battery has run out in the last five hours.

With Apple opening up Apple Wallet to third-party developers last year, tech-minded landlords have raced to be the first to use what they see as a convenient alternative to building apps.

Earlier this year, Silverstein Properties beat other office developers to the punch at 7 World Trade Center in New York, with plans to introduce Apple Wallet badges across its portfolio.

Elsewhere, Hyatt Hotels became the first hotel brand to take advantage of Apple Wallet in 2021. The operator has since rolled out its digital keys in 66 locations.

167 Employee Badges

167’s employee badge was designed by Don C., an influential streetwear designer in Chicago

Are apps out and badges in?

Speed and convenience were two reasons Shapack opted for Apple Wallet.

Michael Israel, VP of innovation at Shapack, told PlaceTech: “Honestly, no one really uses – especially in the office space – [building apps]. The only thing you’d really ever use it for is unlocking the door or registering a guest.”

But slower response times, the frustration of waiting for an app to open and the risk of a phone’s battery running out or Bluetooth not working made app-based options less appealing.

Israel said he expects Apple Wallet integration to be a gamechanger in real estate: “This is going to be one of the rare features, from a tech standpoint in the commercial world, that tenants are actually going to demand.

“It’s so much easier, so much faster.”

Tenants should not feel as if they are using anything particularly high-tech. Rather, the badge should make moving into and through the building seamless and effortless.

“We don’t want tech to define the experience. We want tech to improve the experience,” Israel said.

How far is industry-wide adoption?

Apple Wallet has not entirely replaced Bluetooth access control at 167 Green Street. The badge works in all the shared spaces in the building, but occupiers still use their own preferred tech in their workspace.

“There could be a reader from a company on your office lock or on your office door that is not Apple Wallet compatible, but it’s Bluetooth compatible,” Israel said. In that case, you might need the app your company uses to get in.

Meanwhile, if you’re a landlord considering Apple Wallet in your building, you might have to retrofit the existing access control system to ensure readers are compatible.

You will also need a partner, such as Sharry, for all your software and programming needs. Finally, you will have to go through Apple’s vetting process – which can take time, and which partly explains why so few developers have so far developed access badges.

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