The latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class has a fingerprint sensor nestled below its infotainment screen; the new EQS has one ahead of the armrest. They’re physical, capacitive sensors like those that have been in smartphones for years. As it stands, you can use them to attach your preferences — like seating position, for example — to biometrics. When you get in the car, you simply press your thumb in the right place and the whole interior will adjust to your liking.
It’s not a terrible idea. Memory buttons, usually positioned down next to power seat controls, formerly served this purpose well enough. But modern luxury cars are way more customizable now than they’ve ever been, especially when it comes to user interface. Also, those memory buttons might’ve allowed you to store the settings for two, maybe three drivers. Meanwhile, the MBUX system can save up to 800 personalized profiles — you know, in case you share your S-Class or EQS with a big family.
I don’t entirely hate it, even if I lament the connected car-smartphone comparisons that automakers have been obsessed with for the past decade. Comparisons that the world’s top car companies still love to make, even though they’re only now adopting technology that debuted in the iPhone 5S in 2013.
But of course, that’s not the only purpose for the fingerprint sensors in these two flagship Mercs. In November, Daimler publicized a partnership with Visa to use these sensors as a way of validating in-car payments. Of course this was always part of the plan, but now the true purpose for their implementation is about to be realized. Automotive News reported it in a blip just three days ago, but the announcement actually slipped under everyone’s radars earlier in the month.
Biometric payment authentication is set to begin rolling out in supported models in the United Kingdom and Germany in spring 2022, Mercedes says. The rest of Europe should follow thereafter, then the world. The feature is possible thanks to Visa’s Cloud Token Framework. As you skim the description of how Cloud Token works below, keep in mind that the phone in your pocket has been doing basically the same thing for the last eight years:
Mercedes pay is a component of Daimler’s mobility and digitalization strategy, and a business segment of Daimler Mobility. Daimler will be the first ever automotive company in the world to incorporate the Visa Cloud Token Framework into its vehicles. Visa’s Cloud Token Framework is a cloud-based security technology that allows more flexibility across multiple devices as Visa Cloud Tokens protect and remove sensitive payment information by converting data and storing it securely. They also enable multiple device pairing in and beyond the car, which are then directly integrated with the consumer’s bank credentials. This significantly improves the overall payment experience as consumers no longer need to enter long card numbers to complete a purchase or switch between devices to authenticate payments. The solution will be used to initiate a two-factor authentication.
If the fingerprint sensor is already in the car, I suppose it may as well be used for payments too. A PIN code really would suffice, given that it’s extremely unlikely anyone’s going to be in your car buying six months of navigation or Merc’s pothole warning service without you present. Cars aren’t phones. But entering PIN codes introduces friction — the dreaded word marketers use to refer to the amount of time that passes between you considering a purchase and completing one, during which you may reconsider. Friction’s no good!
The people who can afford to drop six figures on a car also have the money to buy other things, and Mercedes wants to make it as seamless as possible for them to do so. Sure, there are compelling reasons to use biometrics for that purpose, but that little square next to the hazard lights strikes me as less of a convenience and more of an ad.