If you rent an apartment, you probably don't have a choice in what your door lock looks like — so even if you wanted a smart lock, you wouldn't have permission to install one. But in the future, that may not be a problem: a new company wants to see that apartment door locks are smart in the first place. The company is called Latch, and it's raised $16 million — including $10.5 million being announced today — to make that happen.
"We are building a product for longevity."
Latch's first product is a sleek, high-tech door lock (also called Latch) that's designed to be something both renters and real estate companies can love. It can be unlocked by either a key, a passcode, or a smartphone and allows for temporary codes to be issued to guests. Latch sees the passcode as its lock's primary method of entry; it doesn't even recommend that buildings give keys out to their tenants unless somebody really wants one. That way keys can't be lost and buildings don't have to change the locks when someone moves out. Latch's lock also includes a hidden camera, which will photograph guests when they're at the door.
No one can go out and buy their own Latch lock — for the near future, at least, you'll have to move into an apartment building that has one. And there are zero of those at the moment. Latch is selling directly to real estate companies, largely, it sounds, for placement in luxury apartment buildings, as well as some offices and other commercial spaces like gyms. Getting big deals to make that happen is going to be a huge hurdle for adoption, but Latch says it's confident the deals will come.
"We've built the whole company in partnership with some of the largest real estate partners from day one," says Luke Schoenfelder, Latch's CEO and one of its three co-founders. "We know the product is gonna work because they've given us multi-millions of dollars so they can go and buy it. Many are investing so they have early access rights to purchase it."
Two New York buildings will be the first with Latch locks
Latch isn't announcing who those real estate partners are, but Schoenfelder says they own "1.5 million doors" between them, largely in the US. What Latch has detailed so far are two of the first buildings to be outfitted with its locks. Both are in New York: a four-unit building in the East Village and a 431-unit luxury building in Chelsea. Schoenfelder says Latch will be making its list of partners public sometime in the next month or so; it also intends to begin its first installations around then, too.
Building owners can see all comings and goings
Because Latch's customer is building owners, not consumers, its locks have a series of features that privacy-conscious renters may not love. That includes storing logs of when each key is used on each door — so a building owner, theoretically, would know when you're coming and going from your apartment. Latch says storing records is a requirement to be in large buildings because owners want to be able to know who was around should an incident arise. It also allows Latch to potentially offer backend services to buildings for an additional fee. "There's a lot of stuff around access management and building management that we're able to do," he says, without going into specifics. Schoenfelder defends collecting people's comings and goings, saying that what Latch does isn't any different than what's already done by locks with key card or key fob access. Nonetheless, it's important to remember that as our locks get smarter, they're going to start learning more about us. And we might not be in control of what they know.
Though building owners may be the customer, Latch's lock is designed to appeal to consumers, too. Product design was led by Thomas Meyerhoffer, another co-founder and Latch's chief design officer, who's known for his work on the strange and beautiful Apple eMate, a predecessor to the colorful iBook. The result is something that resembles a hotel lock but with a modern edge. Meyerhoffer says Latch intentionally downplays its technology in an attempt to achieve a lasting look. "We are building a product for longevity," he says. "The reason there isn't a flashy LCD monitor in this is because it's going to look old in two years." Likewise, the keypad hides when you aren't using it, only lighting up when touched to hide its digital nature. "This is not about some fancy gadget product which is gonna play a song when you enter the house," Meyerhoffer says. "This is about something you live with daily."
"We don't see ourselves competing with the gadget type of lock makers."
Down the road, Meyerhoffer says Latch could begin selling a version of its lock directly to consumers (its website already implies this will happen as well, offering the ability to "reserve" a unit). But for now, the company says it sees direct sales as a poor business model. "We don't see ourselves competing with the gadget type of lock makers," Meyerhoffer says. "Already when we started this company, [we] felt that was outdated. And I think it's even more obvious today that it is."
Latch's product offers the same general smart features — for consumers, at least — that you'd find in competing products like August's smart lock. You can set it up to automatically unlock when your phone nears it, for instance, or set recurring times to let a guest, like a cleaner or dog walker, into your home. Latch also says that its lock will be able to integrate with other smart home products, though it isn't saying yet what those are. (Notably, Latch's product is a complete lock, not just an add-on to an existing deadbolt like August's product.)
Pricing hasn't been announced yet for Latch's lock, but it'll likely be much closer to $1,000 than $100. That doesn't necessarily matter to consumers — again, it's not available for any single person to purchase — but it should give you an idea about what type of buildings this lock will be turning up in. It also means that, should Latch release a consumer version, it'll likely want to make changes to bring the price down.
Latch has been operating quietly since it was founded two years ago, but it views today's announcement as the moment it really begins to face the public. With its product essentially complete, it intends to use its new funding to expand its ability to sell to building owners and install locks once it has those sales in place. Latch's locks may be headed for high-end buildings first, but they signal the beginning of what could be a very slow shift to smarter locks for everyone.