Lockitron Admits Failure

Author: Brian Rhodes, Published on Jan 29, 2015

They were Silicon Valley's chosen one.

The company who was going to disrupt access control, backed by the biggest incubator and cheered on by the tech press.

However, as IPVM test results showed, the product had massive problems.

And now, Lockitron is admitting failure.

In this note, we examine what went wrong, what they are doing now and how this impacts the smart lock market.

Lockitron's Ambition

Lockitron aimed to put the old and dusty door lock market on notice by introducing a networked access controller to residential and small business customers. Their first Lockitron offering was a massive crowd funding success story, where the company turned nothing but an idea in over two million dollars worth of presales in just a few months.

Core features of the crowd funded Lockitron included complete smartphone management, where a user could be hundreds of miles away yet still lock or unlock an opening. Even better, temporary access could be shared with other users. Visitors did not need keys, just mobile permissions to enter granted by the app.

Moreover, Lockitron claimed that it could be installed by anyone, it worked with any door lock, and users would be up and running in minutes. The $179 price, while high, still hit the sweet spot with the DIYers and the product sold more than ten thousand units in mere weeks. Indeed, the product won huge accolades and hype as an example of how Silicon Valley ideas and Crowdfunding support could revolutionize established markets like door hardware.

The Failure

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However, Lockitron could not solve several problems that caused early reviews to pan the offering. Even after several delays and rework batches, the product never overcame the following problems:

  • Installation: Even though Lockitron claimed universal compatibility and easy install in minutes, the company learned that many users needed an hour or more to install the unit and adjust the door lock. Some users simply found their lock and door would just not fit the device at all.
  • Battery Life: Instead of the claimed 6-month lifecycle from the internal power pack, many users found batteries lasted 2 or 3 weeks. Even when used within normal parameters, the unit drained juice rapidly.
  • Responsiveness: Missteps and miscalculations surrounding WiFi connectivity and the delayed 'Sense' feature were continual trouble issues, with many users finding the lock offline when needed and taking more than a minute to wake up before unlocking a door.
  • Manufacturing: Perhaps the biggest problems came in sourcing components and production for the device. While engineering and design was based in the US, the company found considerable problems trying to find reliable suppliers overseas.

The Pivot

Now, Lockitron is "moving all our efforts to manufacturing Lockitron Bolt", a new separate product replacing the initial offering. The new unit is an entire replacement lock rather than a retrofit device. The new design strips out some of the problem features, and overall is a smaller unit:

With a reduced price of $99, the new Bolt promises the same basic features of the original with the following changes:

  • 'Knock' is Gone: The sensor detecting when a user taps on the door to awaken the lock is gone. The company explained "We found that certain doors would trigger the knock sensor too easily, keeping the Lockitron awake and draining batteries" too quickly. Rather than trying to re-engineer the sensor, Bolt simply drops it.
  • External WiFi: Another battery suck and big performance issue was the onboard WiFi chip. With Bolt, Lockitron reworks connectivity to use a separate wall powered hub called a Bridge that is connected to the Lock via BLE. The company claims this change offers "instantly responsive WiFi".
  • New Keyed Locks: The replacement lock approach means the internal lock cylinder will need to be repinned to match existing door locks and keys. The company claims it will eventually offer a service that does this, but in the meantime "your local hardware store can match your existing key for $5-15..."

The company did not ship all the initial orders for the initial Lockitron, and instead is asking early backers to migrate their orders to Bolt that is planned to start shipping in a few months.

The Future of Smart Locks

The failure of Lockitron to produce a successful product should be a sobering example of the difficult realities of design, manufacturing, and bringing ideas to market in access control (and beyond)! Among the key lessons learned:

Doors are Complex: Despite being simple to work and common, the actual mechanical aspects of a door and lock are complex. Not only is there a wide variety of hardware in use, but the ease of operation and condition of that hardware can quickly complicate a simple idea. Underestimating typical binding, bending, and wind buffeting on doors contributed greatly to the doom of Lockitron.

Good Ideas Are Not Enough: Even when a 'game changing' concept hits the market and is met with millions of dollars in support, a glut of hard work and potential showstoppers still remain before commercial viability. Lockitron has learned this the hard way, and has expended most of the good will and enthusiasm the product won early on. Only time will show if Bolt helps the company deliver.

Will other smart locks fall victim to the same problems? There is good chance. Many of the competing offerings like August, Goji, and Kevo have experienced similar delays, although none appear as drastic and dramatic as Lockitron. Overall, users of smart locks should temper their excitement with a heavy amount of skepticism until the segment matures.

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