When tenants first walk into their new apartment at the Brandon Place complex in Oklahoma City, they aren’t likely to notice anything out of the ordinary for 2019—there are smart locks on the door with keycode entry, and contemporary thermostats with LCD touch screens. During their move-in briefing, they’re told the unit’s smart systems can be operated from Amazon.com Inc.’s AMZN -2.27% Alexa-powered devices. But they aren’t told how hard Amazon worked to get those devices into their new home.
While Amazon’s smart-speaker competitors, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Apple Inc., are striving to grow their user base by luring individual buyers with more elegant or higher-quality products, Amazon has figured out a way to get into millions of homes without consumers ever having to choose its hardware and services in the first place. Amazon’s Alexa Smart Properties team, a little known part of its Alexa division, is working on partnerships with homebuilders, property managers and hoteliers to push millions of Alexa smart speakers into domiciles all across the U.S.
Amazon is hoping to find a new way to build market share by offering discounted hardware, customized software and new ways for property managers to harvest and use data.
For Amazon, the appeal is obvious: Adding millions of new users to its services and gaining access to data like their voice-based wish lists and Alexa-powered shopping habits will put it further ahead of the competition which, at the moment, doesn’t have a significant presence in rental properties and new-home construction.
For tenants like those at Brandon Place, the smart-home upgrades can mean getting amenities they wouldn’t be able to install themselves in a rental property. It also means being able to add other Alexa-controlled devices, like speakers, smart plugs and lights, more easily.
However, tenants and home buyers aren’t necessarily given a choice of smart-home technology. It might be impossible, or at least harder, to switch to Google Home and Nest products, or those compatible with Apple’s HomeKit and the Siri voice assistant.
And there’s a question of privacy: Renters, home buyers and hotel guests are all surrendering more data as a result of these innovations, and may not be aware of all the parties monitoring their smart-home interactions.
‘Hey Alexa, Pay My Rent’
Last November, Amazon announced its partnership with Zego, now a subsidiary of PayLease, one of the largest rent-payment services in the U.S.
Zego has created a system that can be installed in apartments; each apartment gets a network of smart-home devices and a hub, the wireless radio that helps smart devices in the home to connect to the internet. Tenants either receive one of Amazon’s Echo speakers or bring their own, and can use it to control the apartment’s thermostat and locks, as well as other Alexa-compatible smart-home devices the tenants add on, which now range from light bulbs to microwave ovens. The system is already in more than 30,000 apartments across the U.S.
Zego also offers an app that tenants can download on their phones and use to request repairs and even pay the rent. Even those capabilities may soon extend to the Echo speaker.
“We envision a day when you can say ‘Hey Alexa, pay my rent,’ and it will transfer that money from a resident’s bank account,” says PayLease chief executive Dirk Wakeham. He says his company is aiming to roll out its Zego-built, Alexa-compatible smart-home system to more than six million apartments in the U.S. within five years.