Weekly Update

Is security the next piece of the smart-home puzzle?

After the success of connected thermostats in the home, many are wondering what the next major point application success could be. I’ve looked at everything from connected water heaters to connected lighting to connected refrigerators. But the application that looks most promising right now is security. Has the smart door lock finally arrived?

In October the Yves Behar designed smart lock named August went on sale and the Kevo smart lock from Kwikset and Lockitron have been on the market for the past year or two.

My measure for all smart home products is twofold:

  1. Is it easier than what we have now?
  2. Is there a return for the consumer, either monetary, convenience, or in improved user experience?

As the number of connected devices in the home and elsewhere proliferates, many products are likely to just add complexity to people’s lives. These will entertain early adopters but struggle in the mass market.

In terms of security, the age old lock and key is very simple and, in many respects, elegant. So any smart lock must bring value for the consumer.

Some of that value comes from cost avoidance: never having to call a locksmith again because the key essentially exists in the cloud and the equivalent of losing your key is losing your phone. Never having to carry an actual key in your pocket is appealing in the way that Apple Pay makes the wallet one less thing to carry. And being able to easily give others access to one’s home with an electronic key for a set period of time has a major convenience payoff (think the babysitter, the repairman or even an Airbnb guest — the hospitality industry is a big potential market for smart locks).

The number one question surrounding smart locks is, What happens if your phone dies? The good news is that smart locks still accommodate traditional keys. They just add wireless- and sensor-based unlocking capabilities. Additionally, one can always access the respective company’s app on another’s phone log in and unlock that way. Asking to borrow your neighbor’s phone if you’re locked out is much easier and more convenient than calling a locksmith.

The other major public perception sticking point relates to software security on the phone and vulnerability to hacking. I spoke recently with Phil Dumas, the President of Unikey, which makes the Kevo along with partner Kwikset. Looking at the market, he noted, “We realize that the smart lock market is so new and sensitive that if there would be any security compromises, that it would set the whole industry back so we erred on the side of caution. It’s way more secure than your bank account. We’re very confident in the security model we put together.” Unikey’s vision is total elimination of the keychain, and the company has met with the hospitality industry as well as the automotive industry to examine other markets aside from the home.

So If 2013 was the year that Nest showed that thermostats would be an integral part of the smart home vision, could 2015 be the year that a small group of smart lock makers show that getting rid of your physical keychain might just work?

I’m cautiously optimistic here. Great technology is technology you don’t notice. And with some of the better smart locks out there, we’re dealing with a completely passive system, meaning you don’t have to take out your phone to unlock the door — the lock simply anticipate your needs. And the appeal of, say, being able to leave one’s home and go for a run without taking your key, has value.

Sooner or later the keychain is likely to go away just as the wallet eventually will merge with the one item people always seem to take with them: their smartphone. Projections have one third of the world using smartphones within the next 24 months. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when. The market will begin slowly. But I think we’re nearing a point where it truly becomes easier and more convenient to use your phone for entry rather than lugging around that old keychain.