While enthusiasts have been attempting to put technology at the centre of their homes since the early 90’s, efforts to automate have yielded clunky, disparate and inaccessibly expensive systems — blinds that rise uncertainly before daybreak; lighting systems with incomprehensible interfaces that leave you in the dark and insecure fingerprint locks that refuse to admit they’re wrong.
Google’s well publicised acquisition of Nest in 2014 marked the beginning of wider consumer interest in smart home tech. If you can make a thermostat desirable, you’ve set a good precedent for the future…
But despite emerging standards such as Apple HomeKit and Google Home (neither of which are exactly news), there’s been a surprisingly limited range of (useful) products in either ecosystem.
The behemoths all have their own angle: Apple, Google and Amazon carry more gravity than any country or corporation when it comes to setting new standards fast. Apple unlocked our phones with fingerprints, gently introducing the notion of a keyless future. And again for payments, quietly removing our banks’ brand from everyday purchases. Now we can do both with our face — an easier concept to swallow some two years after the last passcode.
Apple focus on seamless design, simplicity and ease of use; Google think cost, efficiency, data and accessibility. For Amazon the drive is logistics — traditional analogue security keeps billions of dollars of value all locked up, leaving them baying at the door.
These days, I get stamps delivered.
A 2015 survey found that 25 million packages get taken from doorsteps. Anything that doesn’t have the option to get left outside, we trundle off to collect. A massive pain for ‘on demand’ customers. And a huge issue for Amazon, who suffer ‘Last Mile Problem’ — the perennial issue that logistics and shipping become increasingly difficult and costly to manage the closer you get to the end point; missed deliveries, returns and lost parcels add to the problem.
Investment in Amazon Lockers, drop off and collection points are an interim measure. Chinese counterpart Alibaba have spent billions on networked ‘rural service centres’, with thousands of village stores effectively transformed into pickup points.
We’re used to eCommerce, and we want things easy. With virtually free delivery expected as standard, we’re beginning to order lower value items, household essentials and food.
Amazon ‘Dash Buttons’ prove the trend, and will no doubt go some way toward disrupting your corner store. These little wi-fi enabled adhesive buttons will activate an order to top up depleted supplies of your favourite everyday products when you’re running low. They’re designed to be stuck in convenient places – a reminder with an action attached if you will – under your sink; in the bathroom; in the larder.
Unsurprisingly there’s a huge pull across categories, from FMCG and low loyalty essentials such as Heineken, Gillette and Andrex; all of whom were quick to jump on board, with the promise of potentially huge customer lifetime values.
The smaller the value of the items we expect to receive, the bigger the problem gets. In the business of physical delivery, analogue locks are an archaic end-point, and an intolerable point of friction.
Left on the Shelf.
In a sense it’s extraordinary that we still accept physical keys as a norm. They are unwieldy, impractical, scratch phones and leave holes in pockets.
Outside of the growing desire to have deliveries right here, right now, we also share our physical assets more than we have ever done before (and with a greater and more varied set of people)— be it homes, cars, parking spaces, pets in some cases.
An expensive housing market has led to greater cohabitation — those who do own homes often enjoy additional revenue from short term rentals, even if only to travel more and use the same services to rent apartments in new places. We work in startups, or shared offices where we still grant and revoke access with physical keys. We tire of our jobs faster than before – one to two years, versus five to ten a decade or so back.
All of this churn and change makes for a lot of lost keys, a lot of extra admin — a lot of fiddle in a market where technology has otherwise so effectively revolutionised how we market and share physical assets.
Voila. Your Key.
So — Amazon can get to your doorstep, it just can’t get in through your door. Till now. As of last month, Amazon are now pushing their integrated lock and accompanying CCTV device. The Amazon Key allows delivery people to drop off or pick up products within a 4 hour window using a unique code — for the pleasure they’re on camera as they come and go.
It’s the final frontier, and arguably it will encourage a raft of other domestic services (cleaning, repairs, installations and no doubt other outsourced services we haven’t thought of yet).
However like with many new entrants to market, the Key hasn’t launched without teething problems. Just this past week, Rhino Security Labs in the US revealed that they were able to disable Amazon’s CloudCam, the camera component of the key system and block the lock signal to the smart door lock, potentially allowing a delivery driver to sneak back into someone’s house undetected.
Amazon have been quick to say that the real life application of this is hugely unlikely and are addressing the issues, but this will no doubt further fuel critics who believe that giving global corporations access to one’s home is beyond comprehension. Then again I bet the same critics would never have fathomed 10 years ago that letting strangers sleep in one another’s homes would become a $30 billion business and shape the way people travel!
This month has also seen the launch of the BoxLock – an internet connected padlock designed to protect your home deliveries. The lock is connected to any storage box next to your home and is compatible with Amazon, FedEx and UPS shipments. The delivery driver scans the package’s label with the BoxLock (which is connected over WIFI) and once it has confirmed your package is out for delivery the lock automatically opens. A notification is then sent to the recipients phone to know that the everything has been delivered safe and sound.
As digitally enabled devices make their way more inimitably into our worlds, we need to consider what those devices mean to us, and their place in our lives. Are they purely commoditised utilities, or will they contribute to our experiences and values. We now buy ‘products as a service’, which impose their own operating systems on our personal code of conduct. What we lease, what we choose to keep private and what we claim to own will become increasingly important points of distinction. How we manage to balance these conflicting points in the long term remains to be seen.
It does however seem befitting that the invention of the camera in the 1890’s – which originally led to the concept of a “right to privacy” is making its way into our homes so that it can be networked and poised to activate on someone else’s’ agenda, on time to let tomorrows delivery in today.
Written by Anant Sharma, CEO of Matter Of Form