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Silverstein Properties’ Tenants Gain Access with a Tap of Their iPhones

Access control systems have been among the last to adopt mobile technologies, but the shift is starting to happen. Pretty soon, physical ID cards and employee badges may become like the analog cameras of access control. Mobile credentials are the fastest-growing product in access control, with their use increasing by nearly 150 percent between 2017 and 2018, according to a recent IHS Markit report. A recent move by Silverstein Properties, a commercial real estate development, investment, and management firm, is further evidence.

Silverstein Properties has become one of the first to implement employee badges in Apple Wallet that enable office tenants to access buildings, tenant floors, fitness centers, and amenity spaces by tapping their iPhone or Apple Watch. The new system starts at 7 World Trade Center, but will soon be rolled out to Silverstein’s 50,000 office customers in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Apple recently expanded the Apple Wallet app to support access control for the first time with the release of iOS 15 last year. The setup process for Silverstein Properties tenants will be handled through its Inspire app. Unlike physical ID cards, Silverstein said there’s no wait time for gaining building credentials and access for new employees.

“Using Apple Wallets is safer and faster, but the biggest thing is it’s more flexible,” said Tal Kerret, President of Silverstein Properties. “A building ID card is not flexible. With the Apple Wallet, we can give access to people to different floors and different parts of the building according to time and number of times they went during the month. You can’t do that with a building ID card.”

Using the Apple Wallet for access control is seamless, according to Kerret. Once the employee badge is added to Apple Wallet on an iPhone or Apple Watch, users simply hold their device near the door’s Near Field Communication (NFC) enabled lock to gain access. An ‘Express Mode’ even allows users to open doors without unlocking their phones. And if the user’s phone is low on battery, they can use Power Reserve to continue to access secured areas for up to five hours. Employee badges stored in Apple Wallet take full advantage of the iPhone’s encryption and privacy features, and the badge is never shared with Apple or stored on Apple servers. If a tenant loses their iPhone or Apple Watch, they can use the Find My app to lock the device and help locate it.

Kerret is excited about how the employee badge in Apple Watch integrates with Silverstein Properties’ Inspire app, which it introduced last year. The app enables tenants to access a suite of hospitality services, social events, amenities, and on-demand workspaces in Silverstein’s offices. The services offered are anything from a yoga class to access to a rooftop terrace with views of Lower Manhattan to booking a shared workspace. Kerret said it’s all free for their office tenants and a perk they love. It’s also further evidence that office landlords have adopted a hospitality mindset to lure employees away from remote work and back into the office.

Apple’s foray into office building access control is big news, and Silverstein Properties likely won’t be the last to use this new Apple Wallet functionality. Apple Wallet has already interpolated hotel room keys at Hyatt properties, university student IDs, and TSA airport security ID checks. Apple’s play is part of the broader trend of mobile capabilities for access control. IHS Markit’s study predicts that more than 120 million mobile credentials will be downloaded by 2023, accounting for about 15 percent of all new credentials that year.

Office buildings and hotels will dominate the need for mobile access control and comprise 90 percent of the market share, IHS Markit analyst Bryan Montany said. While the trend is growing, it may take a while to take over at every commercial building. Montany said many facility owners see mobile credentials as supplementing physical ID cards and not completely replacing them. For owners of large Class A offices like Silverstein Properties, it makes sense they’re making the switch to mobile credentials. However, it may take a bit longer for smaller and mid-sized employers and offices.

Kerret, the Silverstein President, said 90 percent of their tenants use an iPhone or Apple Watch, so making the switch to the Apple Wallet employee badge was easy. Kerret said they’ll continue to use physical ID cards for those who don’t have iPhones until they roll out the mobile credentials for Android. He said they tested many different systems for access control over the years, and the Apple Wallet was by far the superior technology. Facial recognition made many tenants and employees uncomfortable; QR codes were too cumbersome.

“Choosing Apple Wallet isn’t coming just from us,” Kerret said. “It comes from interviewing the tenants and asking them what they cared about and what they wanted. They wanted faster, quicker access. They wanted flexibility.”

Facial recognition and other biometric access controls are gaining popularity, but as Kerret noted, they have concerns. Besides the obvious privacy issues, facial recognition is the least accurate of all the biometric recognition systems in use. There’s also evidence of racial bias: face recognition tech across 189 platforms is least accurate on women of color, according to a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

There’s still a large swath of the commercial real estate market that’s yet to take advantage of mobile capabilities for access control. But that could be changing soon. Silverstein Properties’ use of Apple Wallet for employee ID cards is among the first nationwide, and it won’t be the last. Around 44 million Americans used Apple Pay in 2021, by far leading the industry as the top mobile wallet, according to a report by analyst firm eMarketer. In-store mobile payments have boomed during the pandemic, so it only makes sense that this touchless tech will extend to building access control. Big real estate players like Silverstein Properties and other Class A office developers will likely lead the way, but it’s only a matter of time before those old building key fobs and ID cards will become a thing of the past.

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