Coming soon: Turn your smartphone into a hotel room key

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A new application will let travelers use their iPhones and other smartphones as room keys at Holiday Inns.

The Open Ways app makes it possible for guests to skip the front desk and go straight to their room, says a scoop by USA Today's Hotel Check-In blog.

It'll work like this: After you book a room, the hotel chain will zap an encrypted, unique audio code to your phone. You'll get a text message, too, telling you what room you've been assigned to. Once at the door, click the app on your phone, and a signal will unlock your room's door. A similar technology is already used as the key for rent-by-the-hour Zipcars.

The technology is still being tested in parts of Chicago and Houston and is not yet widely available.

Meanwhile, Apple recently filed for a patent for iTravel, a new app that will allow travelers to use paperless ticketing at airports, car rentals, and concerts.

One trick Apple would like to pull off is display on an iPhone's screen a barcode-like graphic. Once you make reservations for your trip, airlines, hotels, and other companies can send you a code by e-mail or text message. You can have this code scanned by attendants at airport gates, concert turnstiles, or other shops. Already, Starbucks now lets you pay for your coffee via an iPhone app tied to the Starbucks debit card.

Apple's other trick may be to add a "near-field communication chip" to each phone, which would make it easier and more common to use an iPhone as a hotel room key.

Do you like the idea of skipping the front desk by using your cell phone as a room key? Or does this new technology sound like it'll create new problems?

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