Is the Amazon Key a sign of our lock-less future?

Nov 8, 2017

Amazon started shipping its new Amazon Key today. It's a smart lock with a camera and mobile app that gives delivery people access to your home to leave packages inside. The technology, available to Prime members in 37 U.S. cities, is supposed to help cut back on package theft. 

Assa Abloy, a Stockholm-based lock company with brands including Yale and Emtek, is one of Amazon's partners on the new key. Jason Williams, who works in Assa Abloy's residential security division, thinks Amazon's new service will help push the keyless technology industry forward. He talked with Marketplace's Amy Scott about the future of physical keys. Below is an edited excerpt of their conversation.

Amy Scott: Is this the future of keys? I mean most of us are still carrying around a lot of heavy metal in our pockets or purses. Are we moving toward a more digital future?

Jason Williams: I think we definitely are moving. It's been a slow move in the lock space though, to be honest with you. It's one that started 20 years ago, at least, and today we're probably at somewhere around five to seven percent penetration in terms of keyless access at your front door. But I do think it's going that way. If you look at cars for instance, most of the new cars today don't have physical keys and if they do it's on one door. And I think we're going to see those same trends happening in the home. So as we look out five, 10, 15 years, I do think most single-family homes in the U.S. are going to have some sort of keyless access.

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Scott: I guess that makes sense to me given that keys are small and easy to lose. I mean, I have a whole drawer of keys that I don't even know what they go to. But in some ways there are trade offs with a digital key. We could forget the code or it could be hacked ...

Williams: Yeah, I think there are some pros and cons here. But with a physical key, from a security standpoint, you've got to hand somebody that key. Once they have that key, they can go make copies, they can do all sorts of things. I think ultimately we are taking a step forward both on convenience and security with these digital door locks.

Scott: Most of us, of course, have used digital keys, say in a hotel. But I don't know anyone who has a digital lock for their home. Why do you think they haven't caught on more quickly?

Williams: A couple of things. One is awareness. I think as people shop for locks they run into them maybe at Home Depot or Lowe's or as they're shopping on Amazon -- it's not a category that they're thinking about. And then I think that price point has probably been a bit of an issue. But as you look at all of the momentum that there is right now with electronic locks, these programs from Amazon Key being the latest, but also you look at the security industry. The lock is becoming a very important part of that security story as well. Vacation rental is another great one. You think about the emergence of Airbnb really helping to spread the use cases of digital door locks.