I waited as long as I could to upgrade my iPhone X. Finally, when the microphone became inoperable, my voicemails froze in the ether for 24 hours, and silent mode stuck a few times too often, I knew I had to suck it up and transition to a newer model. What I didn’t take into account is that I own a Tesla, and a Tesla relies on a smartphone for entry. Don’t do what I did. I found myself stuck in a parking lot, unable to open the doors to my car because the Tesla didn’t recognize my new iPhone 13.
While it all seems a bit silly in retrospect, I want to help you to avoid the missteps I took.
When I was still enmeshed in my full-time career several years ago, a rogue Labor Day hurricane struck my New England home and region. Power was out for a week. While I had not thought of myself up until that point as particularly tied to technology, the inability to fire up my various devices stymied my daily routines. I came to realize that, even though I might not use personal technology tools in the same way as Millennials or Gen Zers (They like to be called, “Zoomers,” apparently. —Ed.), access to the internet really was integral to my identity.
Fast forward to 2022. I reach for multiple tech devices throughout my day — a Google Chromebook, an all-in-one PC, and an iPhone. Sure, I’m an informal m-learner — my part-time gig here at CleanTechnica requires that I research the web constantly, using news alerts, Google Scholar, daily news feeds, and a bit of social media to become more fully informed on the topics about which I write. I acquiesce to the fact that access to technology is important to me and has a specific impact on the way I go about my day.
Allow me to say I am fairly computer literate. I was the first teacher in my district to have a website, and I wrote a research grant that allowed me an interactive smart board when they were relatively unknown. I was a Google trainer at our school, have created multiple websites and blogs, and mentor people in my condo community in using various tech platforms and programs.
Now that I own a Tesla, I have an additional technology intersection in my life. I really like the technology that’s available in the Tesla Model Y touchscreen (not that I know much about it — someone, please, write an article that tells new Tesla owners the best discoveries you’ve made). The touchscreen is the source of the majority of settings, features, and adjustments — my portal to driving aids and infotainment.
The team at Tesla West Palm Beach did the initial day #1 setup that allowed my family access to the car. Our guy Jonathan helped us connect the Tesla app to the store’s guest WiFi network, set up our phone keys, worked with us to create our mirror/seating/internal temperature + individual profiles, and even showed us how the GPS worked.
And reliance on someone else to set up access without following along ended up being a mistake when I later made the move to upgrade my iPhone.
I acquiesced to letting well-versed Tesla staff take the lead in opening the vehicle with the valet card and pairing my iPhone’s Bluetooth. Even though I have enough self-knowledge to recognize that I’m a visual learner, I didn’t ever follow-up to try to enter the Model Y with the valet card. Awhile back, I had paired my iPhone with my 2013 Honda Civic SI (not electric, mind you, but what a fun car to drive with its 6-speed), so I figured I could do so in the future if I ever needed to do so again.
But I didn’t take seriously enough that my new iPhone wouldn’t know me like my old phone did. My apps were reinstalled, but they weren’t activated. Face Recognition hadn’t been set, either. The friendly, outgoing, storytelling customer service rep had assured me that they’d get the new iPhone all set up for me. However, my interpretation of what that meant and their interpretation was, obviously, different.
I left the store, expecting to walk near the Model Y and have it beep lightly at me in the glaring sun. Nope. No sound, no recognition. I moved around, removed my new iPhone from my carrying case. Nothing.
I clicked on the Tesla app and saw it loading, spinning, crawling toward life. When it did finally load, my stored password was gone. I haven’t entered the password since I set up the app as part of the order process, as it automatically entered for me whenever I used the app. Okay, so I needed to retrieve my password, which required sending me an email. You guessed it: I needed to reenter my Gmail password, too.
I remembered Valet Mode, which hides personal data from the touchscreen, locks the frunk and glove compartment, and limits maximum speed. I retrieved my Valet Card and pressed it to the right of the driver’s window on the circle there. Nothing. I lifted and returned it to the surface, turned it upside down and tried again, even tapped it sideways as if I was going to do a line of coke (quite hypothetically, people, settle down :}). Nothing.
I gave up and worked with the iPhone again, trying different passwords with the Tesla app. Uh, uh.
So, instead of attempting to manipulate the iPhone screen in the middle of a sunny parking lot, I returned to the T-Mobile store. I played with apps and passwords with interior lighting. Voila! I landed on the correct password and the Tesla app went live. Back at the car, I heard the best sound ever: a small chirp. I engaged the door handles, and they gave way. I was back in my wonderful, quiet, and soothing EV. I glided away and switched on calming classical music. My tensed muscles eased.
What I Would Do Differently
While I had casually mentioned to my customer service rep that I had an electric car during our multiple conversations, the significance of that statement was lost in the data transfer. Of course, now I know that it would have been important to be explicit about owning a Tesla due to its keyless entry system, and also relate how a Tesla Phone Key works as the mode of entry. (I sometimes feel as if I am setting up a social class system barrier to speak too much about the lucky place I am in my life where I have the means to buy a Tesla.)
I would be much more direct in self-advocating for Face Recognition. I’ve since updated my iPhone settings for this feature.
I would have my essential passwords with me.
I would be patient so that what became for me nearly a 75 minute wait for data installation on my new phone would add 10 more minutes to activate all the necessary apps to drive home.
I’m going to play with Valet Mode, I promise.
It’s a slight bit of solace to know that, according to Wired, forgetting passwords is pervasive. Among apps, subscriptions, banks, and email accounts, the average person has about 100 passwords. It turns out that, if we’re not getting hacked with weak passwords, we’re getting locked out with the strong passwords we can’t remember. By some estimates, 4 out of 5 of us have forgotten at least one password in the last 90 days, and a quarter of us lose a password at least once a day.
But, like all life experiences, I now know that the gift of driving a computer on wheels comes with technology responsibilities. I’m going to make it a point to continue to learn all I can about my still-new Tesla. I may even read the owner’s manual.
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