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David B. Robins (home)

Code Visions: Improving software quality
State of the hotel mobile key world

By David B. Robins Sunday, October 11, 2015 11:44 EST (link)

There are, I found recently, a lot of companies with hotel mobile key solutions (i.e., sign up via an app earlier, bypass the front desk on arrival, open your hotel room door with your mobile phone). This doesn't even include the residentials, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of them are planning to enter the hotel market too (at least one of them already did). When I did search, I didn't find anywhere that had gathered together the current slate of competitors, so I've done my best to list them all together here, with links to each's solution:

(I should mention that I currently work for Tyco, although I've never even been in the same room with anyone involved in their work with Assa Abloy, and that I have worked and consulted for Hilton and Yikes in the past. I'm just gathering and providing information I've found online out of professional interest in the subject, and am attempting to provide an objective summation.)

Numbers-wise, the hotel chains might have it, although many hotels are franchised rather than company-owned and franchise owners may be able to opt out of the system (although if costs are reasonable the large-scale adoption of the system should mean their signing on would be low risk); second, the lock companies, for smaller chains and independents, and then the startups get to fight over the scraps. It's helpful that lock companies have realized that hotels are not usually going to want to upgrade all their locks and have provided options supporting existing locks similar to the startups' in-door dongles, but possibly less disruptive if they fit inside the lock itself: in particular, Assa Abloy, makers of the popular VingCard Classic, Signature, and Essence RFID locks, offers an upgrade by "[adding] a small Bluetooth Low Energy board to the lock" and also offers an upgrade path for their older locks.

Value-adds that might make a hotel owner consider doing business with one over another would include things like having a full solution with a "cloud" web portal to set up accounts, PMS (property management system) integration, ability to brand ("skin") the mobile app with their hotel brand, full installation, and technical and system support (24/7, if possible). But it looks like most of them already do all that. And in case of the smaller companies failing or the larger companies discontinuing their mobile key project (i.e., if a clear "winner" emerges), having the plans and code in escrow against such a possibility might be a requirement too. Note I didn't mention "security" as a feature, because it's more of "if you don't have it you're dead" and it can be laughable to see claims about number of bits or "the lock provides half of the security key!" (paraphrase) or other buzzwords that really mean nothing at all except that the blurb writer didn't have anyone that understood security to check with.

It would not surprise me if hotel owners are very much taking a "wait and see" attitude toward mobile key—to see which system or systems become dominant: let's face it, they can live without it and it's very much a novelty at this point. Almost certainly any electronic lock system that they have will work with at least one system, so there's no need to pay for a costly replacement of all of their locks. A New York Times article agreed, noting "Investing in a technology that might become obsolete or never take off is one of the risks hotels face in building a mobile key program. This is one reason not every brand is climbing on the mobile key bandwagon."

As the landscape evens out, a mobile key solution is becoming commoditized, which means that rather than competing on features, the providers are competing on price in a race to the bottom—an unenviable position to be in especially if that's your primary line of business. Profits are lower, and it's harder to recoup investment. It's not such a big deal if you're Assa Abloy and a mobile key solution is just a value-add, a catchup, something you might roll into the price of the lock and maintenance agreement; but it's a little like Microsoft crushing your startup by accident when they add a feature.

There are also a number of residential solutions in varying states of function: of the above, Unikey/Kwikset's Kevo is shipping; the rest don't appear to have shipping hotel solutions yet; others have done better at listing these and they aren't the focus: August, Lockitron, Schlage, Goji, Yale.

It will be interesting to see how this settles out; and unfortunately for sellers, hotels may take the same position, with adoption (outside of brands doing their own) being slow to start and then picking up as a direction emerges. And please let me know if I missed any other solutions out there!

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