Twelve years ago, Amazon launched Prime, a subscription service that entitled members to free two-day shipping in the United States. Since then, it has added a number of options to make delivery faster and more convenient. Prime customers can get same-day delivery, and drop off with an hour or two on some items. Of course, customers aren’t always home to receive their packages. So Amazon started putting lockers in nearby convenience stores and building lobbies. It even showed off drones that could drop the package right into your backyard. Today it’s taking the obvious next step and introducing a service that will allow Amazon couriers to open your front door and put your package safely inside your home.
The service is called Amazon Key, and it relies on a Amazon’s new Cloud Cam and smart lock. The camera is the hub, connected to the internet via your home Wi-Fi. The camera talks to the lock over Zigbee, a wireless protocol utilized by many smart home devices.
When a courier arrives with a package for in-home delivery, they scan the barcode, sending a request to Amazon’s cloud. If everything checks out, the cloud grants permission by sending a message back to the camera, which starts recording. The courier then gets a prompt on their app, swipes the screen, and voilà, your door unlocks. They drop off the package, relock the door with another swipe, and are on their way. The customer will get a notification that their delivery has arrived, along with a short video showing the drop-off to confirm everything was done properly.
The system works with locks from Yale and Kwikset, two well-known brands. But the other piece, the connected camera, is made by Amazon, and that’s a really big deal. Amazon is pushing even further into the smart home space, a market it’s made big strides in, thanks to the huge popularity of its Alexa devices. Amazon’s Cloud Cam is a central piece of its Key service, but it’s also just a straightforward home security camera, one that can respond to voice commands and integrates with other Alexa devices. Amazon is planning to sell them in bundles and offer a subscription service for customers who want video archives and advanced home monitoring, putting the product in direct competition with Alphabet’s Nest brand and others in the smart home space, like Ring and Logitech.
Prime customers can preorder the camera today. The Key app and actual delivery service will become available November 8th.
All this raises a big question, however: will Prime customers trust Amazon to monitor their homes around the clock, and to know when it’s okay to unlock their doors for a stranger? And will the benefit of having your packages delivered quickly and securely outweigh any concerns about privacy and security customers might have?
For $249.99, Amazon will sell you a bundle that includes a smart lock, the connected camera, and free installation. If you already own a compatible lock, you can buy the camera for $120. Once you have the system in place, in-home delivery will begin to appear as an option every time you order something on Amazon. There is no additional charge, and Amazon says the in-home delivery will be available on over 10 million items (anything that isn’t too big and bulky). The one caveat is that, for now, Amazon only trusts its own delivery team to handle this work. So Amazon Key is only available in 37 cities across the US where Amazon Logistics handles the drop-off. But the company says it hopes to expand the service more widely in the future. It will be interesting to see if it eventually allows third-party delivery companies to handle this sensitive process.
Amazon knows that it’s asking a lot of consumers with its new Key service. You have to really trust a company to let it record what’s going on inside your home at all times, and even more to unlock your door for strangers. So it tries to make sure the process is minimally invasive and totally transparent. Customers will get a notification the morning of a delivery, with a window of time when they should expect Amazon to arrive. They will get another notification when the delivery van shows up. That means you can start watching a live stream of the delivery on your camera if you want to keep an eye on things.
Even if you choose in-home delivery, couriers are instructed to ring the bell or knock on the door first. That’s meant to let people inside know someone is entering, and also give the delivery person a chance to check for potential hazards like angry dogs. Couriers are instructed to open the door as little as possible, slide the packages in, and not enter the home if possible.
While Amazon isn’t going to allow any third-party delivery services to get inside your house with Key (at least not at launch), the company is hoping that you’ll use Key when ordering stuff like dog walking or kitchen cleaning from its Amazon Home Services division. In the coming months, it says Key will be integrated with over 1,200 service providers across 60 professions. You’ll log on to the website or app of a service like Rover.com or Merry Maids, and there will be a button offering the option for in-home service through Amazon Key.
Amazon’s Cloud Cam and a compatible smart lock are essential ingredients for in-home delivery. But the company is hoping you’ll use these devices for other things as well. The Key app is designed to make it simple for you to grant access to trusted friends and family. You can give permanent access, a one-time pass with a time limit, or recurring access that works on certain days and at certain times. You can grant access through the app or send permissions via a simple SMS message.
Individual Cloud Cams cost $120, but Amazon says it will be much cheaper if you buy them in bulk. Its forthcoming subscription service will allow you to archive and review footage and activate high-end features like motion detection, people detection, and zone monitoring. It’s integrated with Alexa, so if you were down in the basement, you could ask Alexa to show you who’s at the front door. For now, it’s billed as an indoor security camera, and won’t work if left outside in the rain.
While Amazon’s foray into smartphones flopped, it staged a coup with the introduction of Alexa, vaulting to the front of the pack when it comes to smart home gadgets. Alexa was the star of the show at CES for the past two years, finding its way into a wide range of products. Amazon has been aggressively pushing out more Alexa devices this year, everything from wardrobe assistants to alarm clocks. The Amazon Look is probably its most daring product; a camera that’s meant to live in your closet and watch you change clothes requires a very high level of trust. But so far, Amazon has limited access to this device, which is still available for purchase by invitation only.
That makes Amazon Key a crucial stepping stone in Amazon’s quest to manage your home life and integrate itself into your daily routine. Prime customers, of which there are now an estimated 85 million, may sign up for the service because they’re interested in the convenience and security of having their deliveries left inside their homes. But in the process, they would be positioning Amazon to know a lot more about their lives and habits, like when they leave the house in the morning, how often they go on vacation, and when they get back from work at night.
Amazon Key feels like a major test of how thoroughly the company has earned customers’ trust, and a harbinger of a future where tech companies mediate every aspect of our lives. Of course, if you’ve already got an Alexa alarm clock keeping an eye on you at night, maybe it won’t seem like such a leap.