Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Problems with smartlocks, followed by solutions, followed by new problems

In the last four years the development of smartlocks have come a long way. Back in 2010 a smartlock was big and chunky and looked like a 1950's telephone, cost around $650, and it took a trained locksmith about 2 hours to install.

Fast forward to 2014, and smartlocks look like cute hockey pucks, can be installed by anyone in minutes, and are shipping now for as little as $99 (eg see Danalock here)

But we still have a long way to go yet before smartlocks become mainstream. For example, despite Apple announcing the partnership with smartlock maker August a couple of weeks ago, co-founder Jason Johnson admitted in a recent interview that the shipping dates for August have now been pushed out indefinitely (after it was expected last December, and then late Spring). According to Johnson, 'its hard to build a smartlock'.

In the last 4 years a number of start-ups have attempted to solve some of the problems with smartlocks from around 4 years ago, but in solving some of these old problems, they've created a whole bunch of new problems.

Here is a table that looks at some of the problems, and some the solutions, and some of the new problems.

Problem with smartlocks 4 years ago
Start-ups solutions
New problems created by start-up solutions
Design – many smartlocks looked like telephones from the 1950’s
Improve the design to make it look like Apple products, and remove visibility from front of door, therefore make smartlock a deadbolt attachment behind door.
Security  – can easily break, difficult to install, old doors don’t always line up with deadbolt, requires significant torque/battery drain to drive motor to drive deadbolt
Price – many smartlocks were over $500
Reduce price – many startups have been advertising cost of between $159-$229
Security – cheaper products makes it easy to break
Installation difficulty – many smartlocks had to drill new holes in doors (compromising fire doors) and it was difficult to install unless trained locksmith, but trained locksmiths generally refuse to install smartlocks
A deadbolt attachment that doesn't involve changing lock, and doesn't involve any drilling. Having less parts, better mechanics.
Same problems as in design above
User interface/tech combination
Whilst waiting for Android Kitkat NFC card emulation functions to be built (only became available Dec 2013, still not available in Australia) smartlock makers have used Bluetooth, z-wave and Wi-Fi, and OTP(One Time Password), permanent PIN keypads, or combinations of some of these.
Problems with pairing in Bluetooth. Problems with Wi-fi always being on. Problems with drain on battery for Bluetooth, and getting enough torque to drive motors. Hacking (or perceived hacking) issues with wi-fi. NFC/Bluetooth sleeping problems. Controlling antenna’s/direction of Bluetooth signals

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