Apple starts selling Level Lock+, unlock by tapping iPhone

Apple stores in the U.S. are now selling an exterior door lock that can be unlocked by a user’s Apple Watch or iPhone. The $329 Level Lock+ is the first Home Key-supported lock that’s been sold in Apple stores.

When the Level Lock+, made by Level Home, is installed in a door, users can unlock and relock their homes with a tap using Apple Home Key, a feature that uses NFC and secure tokens in Apple’s software. Users can text keys to their friends or automate when the door is locked.

For Apple, it’s a milestone in the development of a highly anticipated feature that was first announced in 2021. Home Key is an example of Apple continuing to digitize stuff that’s normally carried in a physical wallet or pocket, from cash to keys.

Many of Apple’s new software features in recent years have been aimed at making the iPhone more valuable to users to prevent them from switching to other phone brands. A user whose front door is tightly integrated with their phone could be less likely to switch to an Android phone.

Some of Apple’s newer initiatives, especially its smart-home ambitions, require extensive third-party hardware or systems support in order to work. But compared with features in iOS updates where Apple controls the hardware and software, these new integrations can take longer to become widely available.

In addition to Home Key, Apple has announced Car Key, which unlocks supported cars from BMW and Hyundai, and Room Key, which puts hotel keys from chains such as Hyatt in Apple’s Wallet app. Apple’s iPhone is integrating more deeply with vehicles through CarPlay, and extending financial services to its users with Goldman Sachs.

For Level, it’s an opportunity to stand out as a technology company in a marketplace dominated by a few large, older lock makers, by offering a software feature that’s been hotly demanded by a core subset of smart-home enthusiasts.

“There’s a question that’s been posed right now in this category,” Level CEO John Martin told CNBC. “The question is, is a smart lock a consumer electronics device? Or is it a traditional lock that’s now smart?”

Smart-home fans might simply be enthusiastic about a new Home Key lock option. Since Home Key’s debut in 2021, there has only been one supported lock model on sale in the U.S., the Schlage Encode Plus. Smart-home enthusiasts on forums such as Reddit have speculated at length about which companies might launch additional Home Key devices over the past year.

The elevated level of Apple consumer desire for a new Home Key lock was revealed after reporters and users were able to buy or locate Level Lock+ at certain Apple stores after they accidentally went on sale early in some locations over the past week.

Martin said the company immediately noticed the blog posts and social media buzz around its new lock.

“[Andrew] Samson, who’s our CMO, former Nike guy. He’s great,” Martin said. “And he calls me in the night like, ‘Oh my God, we’re trending!'”

Some people on the forums will be disappointed to hear Level won’t update the firmware on its old locks to support Home Key. For Home Key support, users will need the Level Lock+ sold at Apple stores or online.

“We don’t plan to do a firmware update for Touch,” Martin said. “We needed to innovate the base part of the technology that’s inside of the product to support Home Keys in a way that was going to be first class.”

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