Amazon Extends Its Smart Home Lead Over Google With Keyless Options At CES 2019

Key by Amazon. AMAZON.COM

Last week I attended the annual CES conference in Las Vegas, NV, to learn about all the latest in consumer electronics. You can’t talk consumer electronics without talking about the smart home, and you can’t talk about the smart home without talking about Amazon and its pervasive Alexa voice assistant functionality, first-party devices, and licensed technology. For Amazon, its big splash at CES 2019 was mostly about making the smart home “keyless” and bringing more products and services into “Key By Amazon” fold.  Let’s take a look at what all the e-commerce giant announced, but first I want to talk strategy.

Why “entry” matters

Before I dive into the new products and services, I thought it was important to talk strategically why “entry” means so much to Amazon. This is more than a slick way to get into your home and business. Entry and access, whether it is the trunk of the car, the business, the home hallway or the garage are all repositories for today and future products and services.

When I transport myself ten years into the future, I am expecting self-driving vehicles, whether they be vans or drones to deliver Amazon goods from its local warehouses to our homes, cars, and businesses. I could see a robot delivering that box up to our front step, having secured access with its cameras recording everything going on, electronically opening the front door or garage and delivering the package safely and closing the door on its way out.  Once I transport my way back to 2019, it is people delivering packages that need a safe place to put the package in the home, business, garage or car. Enter Key.

I could see theft hitting near zero as porch pirates would have nothing have to steal off porches as that Amazon box would be safe and sound inside. I could see no more signed FedEx “whack a mole” tracking down that package that needs to be signed for, but you work for a living and are rarely home. I cannot tell you how many FedEx stickers a month I get on my front porch requiring a signature. So annoying.

Schlage Encode

Door hardware pioneer Schlage announced its newest smart lock at CES 2019, called the Schlage Encode Smart WiFi Deadbolt, which will be integrated to function with Amazon’s Key app. The companies tout Schlage Encode as “the world’s first ever Wi-Fi enabled deadbolt” to work with Key by Amazon. Schlage Encode is free-standing—it requires no hub or gateway to function, just WiFi and Amazon’s Key app. The lock supports as many as 100 unique codes, allowing users can mete out custom guest access—recurring, temporary, or permanent. Schlage Encode is also compatible with Amazon Alexa’s key skill, so users can lock and unlock their doors by voice command if they so choose (for added security, this function requires a 4-digit authentication code). Optionally, customers can link Schlage Encode to their Amazon Cloud Cam.

Key for Garage and “in garage delivery”

Amazon announced at CES 2019 that customers will now be able to monitor and control their garage doors using the Key app, with functionality the company calls (obviously) Key for Garage. The functionality is made possible through a partnership with the Chamberlain Group, a company that specializes in access control solutions, known for its Chamberlain and LiftMaster garage door openers and its myQ connected technology. Key for Garage will allow any garage door connected with myQ technology to be managed via the Key app. For those not currently myQ-enabled, Amazon is selling Key for Garage Kits that enable customers to add connectivity to their current garage door openers.  I have a MyQ system, and it isn’t very Alexa-friendly, so I hope this will help that.

This is a nice add to Key by Amazon’s functionality, but perhaps more intriguing was the announcement that Prime members in select cities will now be able to choose “in-garage delivery.” Amazon says it will verify that drivers are at the right address before entry, and the drivers will not leave the premises until the door closes behind them. Cloud Cam customers can monitor the delivery process remotely if they so choose. Obviously, there could be security fears concerns with a feature like this, but Amazon appears to be taking many precautions to reassure customers. If you can get over the thought of a stranger entering your garage, think of the benefits—no longer would packages sit on the front step all day while you’re at work, exposed to the elements and sticky fingers. Out of the other side of my mouth, I remember 15 years ago where the idea of shopping online and one-click purchasing sounded crazy.

Manage locks through Ring

Amazon also says that soon Key users will be able to unlock/lock their smart locks (including the new Schlage Encode deadbolt) directly through their Ring doorbell live feed or Ring app camera. The example Amazon provided was remotely seeing your dog sitter arrive via your Ring app, visually verifying their identity, and buzzing them in to take care of your pets with the press of a button.

I own two Rings and cannot to try this out.  As a follow-up, I would expect Ring to use facial recognition to automatically let someone in a way that a phone lets you in based on a 3D face scan.

Introducing Key for Business

The last Key announcement from CES 2019 was a new smart fob for Amazon delivery drivers, which the company says will allow property managers and owners to give controlled access to their buildings so that they don’t have to manually let them in every time they make a delivery. Amazon says Key for Business is compatible with most building access systems and will allow staff to manage delivery hours and monitor deliveries so they can better focus on serving their tenants. I am expecting this will take a bit longer to percolate versus the consumer plays, but it is a valuable service.

Wrapping up

All these keyless options appear to be wise enhancements to Amazon’s Key repertoire. Not only do these features make the smart home “smarter,” all but eliminating the need for physical keys, but with Key for Garage and Key for Business, Amazon is also streamlining the process for its original raison d’être—home delivery. Some people may not quite be ready to allow Amazon access to their domiciles, and we’ll have to wait and see how this lands with customers. Amazon has one of the most trusted brands in many countries, so if someone is going to get it right, it would be Amazon. Remember when online shopping and the one-click purchase was scary? In ten years we will likely be saying the same thing about Key. Competitively, Amazon one-upped Google with this announcement, but Google did have a great roller coaster ride at the event.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.