Earlier this week, Level introduced a new, less-expensive smart lock. It’s smaller and, at $249, cheaper than the current $329 Level Lock Touch Edition. Level removed the touch and keycard functionality to reduce the cost and price on this new model. I haven’t reviewed it as was just announced and I’m sure it works as advertised. But should you even consider buying a smart lock right now or in the new future?
I’d say most people shouldn’t. At least not if they want some advanced features that we know are coming to the HomeKit ecosystem, many of which will surely follow for Android users. And even though the new Matter standard has us excited, it still doesn’t support locks.
For these reasons, which also include an industry move to support the Thread standard, the smart lock market is in a bit of limbo. Well, at least from where I stand.
To check my thoughts, I reached out via email to Lee Odess, who has previously worked at Allegion, Lutron, and UniKey Technologies, to name a few companies. Odess is currently the CEO and founder of Group337.
When I bounced my opinion that consumers should wait on purchasing a smart lock, he agreed, but with a caveat:
“Overall I 100% agree with you that now is not a good time to buy one. But realistically, it depends on the use case of what you, the end-user, care about, new construction vs. retro, etc. I agree the “wait and see” is heightened here, but it also depends if you want a smart lock or a connected lock or want one with a keypad (like I selected for my new home). I decided to go with the Baldwin lock and just wanted a keypad. It connects via Zwave to Ring, but I rarely use it. I chose not to play the game and just went with what I know that works.”
That “game” Odess references are the changing standards I mentioned above, along with the very likely possibility that old and currently available locks may need to be replaced as the standards are adopted.
The $329 Level Lock Touch Edition is actually in a good place here because the company chose to use radios that work with Bluetooth and Zigbee. That’s according to an interview Stacey recently conducted with Rob Goto, Level’s CTO.
The radios inside the Level Lock Touch Edition can be updated to support Thread. And the Touch Edition also has an NFC chip inside it which could be used in a “tap to unlock” scenario with an NFC-enabled phone or wearable. Indeed, Apple’s recently announced HomeKit solution does support NFC.
In this case, however, the Level Lock is an outlier. Very few other locks are ready for Matter, Thread, or NFC unlocking. And according to Odess, that may not change soon:
“After working in the smart lock industry for a long time, IMHO, the value creation is relatively low (right now) for consumer smart locks and not compelling enough to wait or spend extra for it. A dumb keypad does 99% of what someone needs in a single-family home. We as an industry have a long way to go still on innovation. I think it will get there, and Matter is a good start. The more standards and “we don’t have to worry about it” smart lock companies can work with will allow them to focus on the parts to add value. Right now, the R&D dollars are spread too thin over low return tasks.”
In other words, while the smart lock companies would love to sell you new or replacement locks, the return on investment to make that happen isn’t there to make this a priority.
Instead, all of the big smart home players are more focused on the new Matter and Thread standards.
Odess confirmed that thought, saying, “Matter is a priority because Apple, Amazon, Google, and Samsung made it a priority. That is a large train running in a collaborated direction and any lock company that doesn’t get on will have to answer to their investor base quarters in the future.”
Clearly, there will be future smart locks with advanced features such as NFC support or working on a Thread mesh network, for example. That’s going to take time and will likely follow behind updated smart home hardware that’s used more often.
Think of lighting, sensors, and smart speakers, for example. Those types of devices are likely utilized many more times a day than the occasional “I want to remotely unlock my front door for someone” types of scenarios.
As I transition to HomeKit, I do plan to replace my Nest x Yale smart lock. But since I saw evolving standards arrive earlier this year through the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly known as Project CHIP), I didn’t rush to buy a smart lock.
After all, the current one works just fine; it’s simply not capable of features I’d like to have that are coming down the pike. As Odess alluded if you want a smart lock today and your use-case doesn’t include those future features, go for it.
I think most people would be better served on waiting until 2022, however. Give the market time to shake out if you can. If you don’t, you run the risk of needing to invest in yet another smart lock to replace the one you’re buying today for additional features and compatibility.