(Pocket-lint) - As we walk back to the hotel from dinner at a nearby restaurant it suddenly dawns on us that we don't have our room key. Having travelled to numerous hotels around the world, the key, now normally a card, is a stable addition to our back pocket.
Tonight is different, tonight we are staying in the W Hotel Leicester Square in London and instead of a key we are using a watch, the Apple Watch, to gain access to the hotel and our room.
The W Hotel chain, through its Starwood Preferred Guest app, is the first hotel group to allow keyless entry specifically through the new Apple Watch.
The process, as we found, is simple. You download the SPG app, register to use your iPhone or Android smartphone as a keycard and then wait until it's time for your stay.
24 hours before check-in you are prompted to detail your estimated arrival time and whether or not you would like to use your phone, or phone and watch, to gain access to the room. A traditional key card is also an option.
Opting for the former in some locations (mainly the US) will allow you to bypass the front desk completely, although in the UK you still have to stop by to give credit card details and in some cases your passport.
Once confirmed, our Watch and iPhone became our keys, and we needed them to get into the hotel after hours, accessing the lift controls, and most importantly getting into our room.
Currently available in more than 100 Aloft, Element and W hotels including W London - Leicester Square in the UK, SPG Keyless is rapidly rolling out and will soon be available on 30,000 doors in 150 Aloft, Element and W hotels around the globe. It arrived in the London W Hotel in London in April, and it is part of a series of new innovations the Starwood Hotels and Resorts are rolling out across the globe to its numerous brands.
The Watch and the phone app also serve as a hub for your guest and loyalty programme information. The app displays the hotel name, photo, and stay dates for up to four upcoming Starwood stays, as well as being able to remind you of your room number once you've checked in. Members can also access their SPG account information, receive alerts about newly posted Starpoints, and get congratulated when they graduate to elevated statuses.
Whether it is the Watch or the phone, we found both incredibly easy to use, although it does currently take more time than whipping out a key card to swipe your way in.
The iPhone app is quick and simple, while the Watch app, although working as prescribed, isn't as quick. This could be easily solved with a quick rejig of the layout of the app however. Put simply, the "Unlock door" screen needs to be accessible much quicker.
There are other potential issues too, the age old problem of battery life. You'll need to have power for both your phone and the Watch for it to work and if your phone runs out of battery it means a trip back to reception for you to be issued with a traditional card.
Doing so also removes the ability to use the Watch or phone until the front desk resets the system for you. You can't have both, even as a back up it seems.
But this move to support new forms of technology looks to be just the start of what Starwood has planned over the coming years for its numerous hotel chains.
The company is already rolling out Apple TV boxes to most of its hotel rooms to allow guests to quickly share their own content, be that holiday snaps or movies to the room's television.
In more forward thinking moves the company is also looking to "bring the home of the future" to the hotel room.
That according to Daniel Kerzner, the Vice President of Digital, Loyalty and Partnership marketing for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East is about empowering guests to be able to have far more control over key elements of the room like lighting or heating.
"In five years we expect the room will customise around you," explains Kerzner to Pocket-lint. "It will know that you are coming so sets up the room whether that means your lights, your heating, or something else."
The company is already testing everything from using your phone to control the rooms environment to pressure sensor carpet in the hallway that can tell if you are standing outside your room in its innovation lab in Stanford.
Starwood is experimenting with Smart Floor Tiles, for example, that feature RFID technology that will communicate with lighting and beaconing technologies to map out a gentle lighting path from your bed to the bathroom in the middle of the night, Or help light the way from the elevator to your room. The system may also be used to alert other Starwood hotels when a guest has put a room tray in the hall so it can be cleared away even faster.
Smart Mirrors that let you read the headlines, check the weather or see the final score of last night’s game as you fix your hair in the morning are also being considered.
One technology already in use is the move to use WhatsApp to allow guests to quickly and efficiently talk with hotel staff. Rather than dial 0 to talk to the front desk, the service, which is already live in 25 hotels with another 175 being added in the next couple of months, lets you quickly message the hotel any questions you have.
"We aren't inventing this tech, we are just using it in the best way," adds Kerzner. "It's about giving guests an experience on their terms."
Many hotel chains around the world have been burnt trying to develop their own entertainment or phone systems only to have guest completely ignore them. It's something Kerzner is only too aware of with him admitting that Starwood got it wrong on installing alarm clocks with docking stations and phones in the toilets of many of its hotels only for them to be out of date very quickly.
As for the Watch, it is start. For anyone that has left a keycard in their room and cursed as the door closes shut, the idea of having their card moved to their phone will be an appealing one. It shows us where technology is going, and with a few tweaks is likely to be the future.