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Lockitron revamps its smart lock with a price cut and new design

Lockitron, one of the first companies that used crowdfunding to create a connected home product back in 2012, has stopped shipping its initial product to focus on an improved version that will cost less and offer a better user experience. Backers who were expecting the original Lockitron will instead receive the new, improved Lockitron Bolt, which starts at $99 and will eliminate Wi-Fi from the lock as well as change the way the lock works.

Instead of fitting over an existing lock as the original Lockitron did, the Bolt will require the user to replace the entire lock mechanism, much like installing a Kevo or existing smart lock from pretty many lock makers except August, Danalock or Okidokeys. Cameron Roberts, the co-founder of Lockitron, told me this was because the original Lockitron was causing some users problems.

“We were getting feedback about robustness,” Roberts said. “We wanted the experience to be super-consistent, but anytime you put something over the outside you have to calibrate it and it can be finicky with one mechanical object trying to control another, different mechanical object, so we decided to go with a full mechanical replacement.”

Lockitron was originally designed to make it easy for renters to replace their standard lock with a connected lock without running afoul of their landlords. Even though about 70 percent of their backers were homeowners, the founders wanted to keep that rental market in mind. So they designed the Bolt with a replacement keyway on the cylinder where the key fits.

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Because of this, a renter can find out if their current keys fit a Kwikset or Schlage brand of lock and order a corresponding keyway with their Bolt. When it arrives, they can take the keyway cylinder to their local locksmith to have it matched to their key, typically for $5–15. Then they install the lock on their door and can use their current keys provided by the landlord.

Having installed my own smartlocks of a similar design, I can tell you it’s not a difficult operation. It took me and my eight-year-old daughter about 20 minutes and a Phillips head screwdriver. My daughter provided a nice, but not strictly necessary, extra pair of hands holding things flush while I screwed plates in on the other side.

That solved the mechanical problems, but the other problem was battery life. “When we designed it with the Wi-Fi built in, we were considering only the idealized setup with power consumption,” said Robertson. “And in many circumstances where the Wi-Fi range or setup wasn’t perfect, there were so many problems with the lock trying to stay online that battery life suffered. And then people’s locks became unusable because they were always having to change the battery.”

So the Wi-Fi had to go. The Bolt has Bluetooth only in the Lock. Lockitron will offer a Bridge, for a preview price of $79, that plugs into a wall, so people can control the lock remotely. At CES this year both August and Kevo launched the same type of products for their Bluetooth-only locks.

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Robertson says the bridge is a “necessary evil” to bring the reliability and remote capability that Wi-Fi adds to the lock, but doesn’t like that the experiences isn’t as seamless for the user. The hope is one day other companies will build the bridge capability into their products so Lockitron doesn’t have to sell a separate bridge.

As for the Bolt, since Lockitron is first sending it to the original backers of the 2012 campaign, they will be the first in line to get an initial preview run of 1,000 units in March. A full production run will begin in late spring with the first of those shipments going to any remaining backers of the original campaign.

It’s a pretty big move to abandon your original design after shipping 11,000 of about 15,000 pre-orders, but Robertson said that conversations with Lockitron owners and backers were positive. And while current Lockitron owners won’t get a free replacement, they can get $50 off the Bolt without returning their current unit if they want to make the switch.

“When we really started shipping in volume and learned about the product and our manufacturing and supply chain set up — it wasn’t scaling. We thought this is unfair to keep people waiting for an incredibly long amount of time.” said Robertson.

So he said the company decided to move to the Bolt and design that for scalability with the manufacturer at the table. Robertson said the goal was to design it to be able to ship 10,000 of these locks a month. Lockitron has done all this with only an undisclosed seed round raised in April 2013. The company found that it’s hard to build stuff and it’s even harder to come back to the drawing board in the middle of shipping your product, but if you want to build a business sometimes you’ve got to do things the hard way.