Smart Credentials: The Evolution of the Smartphone as a Digital ID


Smart Credentials: The Evolution of the Smartphone as a Digital ID

Want to play a game?

Remember playing the boardgame Candyland? There was always a counter in my head calculating the precise number of spaces between my character on the board and the next shortcut. Landing on these shortcut spaces would allow your character to skip ahead of a portion of the gameboard, ever closer to reaching the candy castle ahead of the other players for the win! 

I’ll suggest it’s a foregone conclusion that smartphones will indeed replace many physical credentials, but how they replace them is what matters most.

At ZipBy, we strive to understand, innovate, commit and deliver so that our partners continue to lead the industry. This requires us to constantly look ahead at what new ideas are shaping the world and how those ideas can improve the lives of our clients, employees, and customers. While things are not laid out ahead of us in life as they are on a gameboard, seeing around the next corner is key to being prepared to take on the challenges we face every day. Furthermore, seeing around the next few corners to find the “shortcut” allows us to advance beyond the twists and turns. That opportunity to leap ahead of the curve is just in front of us at the intersection between technology and the strict requirements of secure credentialing.

Smartphones from Simon to Siri

In late 1994, IBM introduced us to Simon, a cellular phone capable of sending text messages, emails, a calendar that also came with a stylus for sketching on its touchscreen. An evolution into the world of smartphones. It was nearly 13 years later in 2007 when Steve Jobs stepped on to the stage at Macworld to introduce us to the iPhone for the first time. At that time smartphones also allowed access to the web and began to transform this seemingly innocuous device from an accessory to a necessity. Soon after the iPhone’s release in 2008, the doors to the App Store were opened and our obsession with all the amazing things in it brought about the phrase, “there’s an app for that”. 

Fast forward to 2020 when Apple has filed a patent application for the smartphone to be used as a digital credential in place of a physical driver’s license or passport. Now, this is not the first time the smartphone has been used as a digital credential, but it is significant in its relevance due to the reach of Apple’s products and services. Utilizing various technologies such as blockchain, digital credentials now have the requisite security solutions to exceed that of physical credentials. 

Smartphone as a digital credential

Imagine for a moment that feeling you would have just after realizing that your smartphone is missing. That sinking feeling of loss, the fear of unauthorized access to your most personal information, the panic that ensues when you realize that you can’t even call anyone for help because you haven’t a clue what anyone’s phone number is anymore. The smartphone has become an extension of our self and we are seldom ever without it, even for a moment. 

Biometric validation, encryption, multifactor authentication, and other safeguards allow our smartphones to serve as an excellent identifier both due to these security features and the wide variety of secure validating methods in use today. It’s always with us, infinitely powerful with the incorporation of other technologies and more secure than the physical credentials it will replace. No brainer, right? That’s the trick with these shortcuts, the dice don’t always land as you wish them to, and so not every toss will yield the expected return. 

Now think about these technologies and their implications on parking. Smartphones are already being utilized to credential through access control points today. You may have QR scanners or NFC credit card devices installed at your facility today. These technologies still rely on the smartphone being used the way a ticket or credit card would, not harnessing the potential of the smartphone. As PARCS systems continue to evolve there are more systems transitioning to methods like Bluetooth as a solution to provide secure credentialing and a far superior experience for the parker. Compare a windows up, instantaneous gate vend to the experience of a parker waiving their smartphone in front of a reader trying to get the angle right for a proper read – in the rain. And that’s just considering parking gates. Use the same technology to open pedestrian doors, access secure elevators, rent a scooter, pay a bus fare… the applications are endless and they are already taking hold across the world today. 

I’ll suggest it’s a foregone conclusion that smartphones will indeed replace many physical credentials, but how they replace them is what matters most. Will it be through the devices NFC or BLE? Could blockchain provide the platform for secure validation to appease law makers or will it be another route that’s chosen? Is the smartphone going to be the credential or just the gateway to cross referencing multiple validation points to secure identification? All of this is still being decided, and there’s new technology being developed daily to potentially usurp all currently known methods. 

The epicenter of this shift

Presently, countries all over the world have programs to move physical credentials like your photo ID, birth certificate, social security card, passport, and vehicle registration to digital credentials securely accessed from your smartphone. There are multiple countries on every continent, except Antarctica, currently offering or developing Digital Credentialing programs including an initiative involving the entire European Union adopting an electronic ID. So, the short answer is that digital credentials are being implemented, at some stage, all over the globe. 

Why does this matter to the parking owner/operator? It goes back to the idea in the first paragraph of this article. Each parking manager is looking for the next opportunity to advance ahead of the competition and to capitalize on the most efficient path towards what is optimal. When evaluating these global trends, it is important to look ahead to the potential opportunity they create down the road. With the largest technology companies and entire nations building the infrastructure for the future utilization of our smartphones as a critical tool for credentialing, I’ll suggest we should all being evaluating the parking technology being implemented today in light of the global shift towards the smartphone as the key to open all doors in the future.

Investing today in technology geared towards solving yesterday’s challenges will leave your facility behind as the changes discussed above are implemented. Ultimately, it will also require greater investment to completely retool; or loss of profitability, after the shift has occurred. Think back to the shift from cash-based to credit-card-only facilities or the impact of PCI compliance guidelines on parking equipment investments as similar types of events, only with the understanding that these events will continue to increase in speed and impact. Don’t get left behind while your competition is jumping the curve. Review the evidence, identify the solutions that increase your solution’s flexibility to capitalize on these new opportunities and make the decisions today that will fuel your success though the next decade. 

Brooks Ellis is CEO of ZipBy. He can be reached at

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Brooks Ellis
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