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Key vs. Fob - Which Is Better?

In a new multifamily housing insights series, Ivana Gatica shares her experiences living in multifamily housing, observations of access control impacts, and insights in the voice of someone living it.

Some would say it’s a tale as old as time. But really, the fob has only been around since the early ’80s. It was originally invented to open car doors, but since then has been reimagined for security and access control.

My most recent article about my experience with access control as a dog walker left me thinking a lot about which of these two technologies is the most convenient and reliable. Why have we adopted the fob when the key is still widely used everywhere? Why change something that isn’t broken? After all, the fob has only been around for about four decades while the key dates as far back as Ancient Egypt.

I was not alive in Ancient Egypt or when the first keyless entry system was developed in 1983 (I know, I’m definitely dating myself), but I can speak to my experiences with these two technologies and offer my opinion as to which I prefer.

A Case for the Key

There is beauty in a key’s simplicity. Who doesn’t love the sleek teeth of a key, the satisfying click it makes when it turns and unlocks? The key has played a major role in film and TV for decades, commonly used as a trope in the robbery and horror genres. I bet you can think of at least one scene in a movie where a character sneakily picks a lock with a paper clip. Many renowned magicians often use keys in their acts as well. Harry Houdini even famously said, “My brain is the key that sets my mind free.”

However, while the mystique of the key has survived through popular culture, none of us want to carry around a heavy keychain every time we leave the house. On top of that, dealing with old locks that don’t budge and shuffling through unmarked keys can be incredibly frustrating. If only someone came up with a contactless solution, a new type of key that could be programmed to open several doors in a building….

A Case for the Fob

The key’s reputation is unmatched, but the fob has disrupted the way we think about access. The fob, a relatively young player in the industry, came along and all but erased the days of struggling with a lock and the dangers of duplicate keys. Modern fob technology not only diminishes the risk of duplicates but also allows for guest tracking and control. In a multifamily building, residents are less likely to let their guests roam free as most amenities require a fob to enter. Think of all the doors a fob opens up for us in our daily lives with that faint beep.

The downside of the fob’s abundant access is that it can also be taken away in an instant. Have you ever gotten laid off from a job and when you come in to clean out your desk you find out that your fob no longer works? That slightly heartbreaking moment highlights the power of the fob, its versatility, and the reason why they are often the norm in buildings with high foot traffic.

At this point, you’re probably dying to know which one of these two spectacular contenders I prefer. If I had the choice to use just fobs or keys for the rest of my life which would I choose? The honest answer is that I have grown to enjoy a combination of both. If I had to carry around more than two fobs at a time, I would probably grow tired of it very quickly. They would take up too much space in my bag and my pocket. On the other hand, if I had to carry around a dozen or so keys, I would also get tired of rifling through each one until I find the one that unlocks my desired door.

The one negative point I will subtract from the fob is that it makes me constantly worry about accidentally locking myself out. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve forgotten my fob at my desk when going to the bathroom and then had to text a coworker to let me back into the office. But maybe that’s just me.

So, what do you prefer? Key or fob?

Ivana Gatica graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a degree in Fine Arts and Writing. For the past year, she has been working as a copywriter in the marketing and fintech spaces helping businesses find their unique voice. She also likes to take on freelance writing opportunities in her free time and loves to write fiction and poetry.