With a big Wired story by Steven Levy:
Its experience with the thermostat showed that people will pay several times the price of a conventional device for a sexy, high tech, high-performing alternative. It hopes for the same with the Protect. At $129, it costs far more than a simple smoke alarm, which can go for less than $20, and it’s still expensive compared to combo smoke–CO detectors, which typically cost under $60. Nest’s pitch is that it is delivering something incomparable, with Wi-Fi, multiple sensors, pre-alarms, and an emotional tug that transforms a mechanical wallflower into a beloved digital blossom.
On the surface, it seems like this logically follows from their success in the thermostat market and may even be a higher-volume business. Smoke alarms are required in almost every home and apartment in wealthy countries — in New York, as in many places, a smoke alarm is currently required on each floor of a house or apartment, inside every bedroom, and on the wall or ceiling outside any bedroom area (usually a hallway). So a compliant two-story, four-bedroom house in New York needs one CO alarm and probably at least six smoke alarms. (In new construction or renovations, the smoke alarms need to be hard-wired and interconnected, too, so they all freak out when any one detects smoke.)
Like thermostats, smoke and CO alarms are also all terrible. Thanks to the market’s constant push for cheaper, more disposable consumer products, it’s nearly impossible to buy one that’s not a piece of junk with a pretty good chance of deciding its battery’s dead or malfunctioning at 3 AM sometime in the next year. (Smoke alarms rarely malfunction quietly or during the day, resulting in a process that angers residents so much that they’re motivated to set the world on fire, negating most of the safety benefits of smoke alarms.) Oh, and now you’re required to have six of them in your house. Good luck ever sleeping again.
Two of the biggest draws of the Nest thermostat were its remote-controllability via mobile apps and its learning algorithms, neither of which solve very common problems for smoke alarms.
I bought Nest thermostats so I could turn on the heat or air conditioning from the car an hour before returning home from a weekend trip, or adjust all thermostats in the house while sitting on the couch.1
Most people’s biggest annoyance with smoke alarms, besides having to change their batteries at 3 AM, is frequent false alarms while cooking.2 Nest’s new Protect smoke/CO detector has features to address and mitigate this which sound nice.
But the biggest cause of false alarms is bad placement. The smoke alarm that’s required on the same floor as your kitchen probably doesn’t need to be anywhere in or near your kitchen, as long as there’s not a bedroom immediately adjacent.
The problem isn’t that a better smoke alarm needs to come and fix this — smoke alarms that go off when filled with smoke are doing their job. The problem is that most people annoyed by their smoke alarms can’t move them to a more appropriate location that would minimize false alarms, usually because they’re in smaller areas like apartments that don’t have better places, or they’re renting and aren’t allowed to relocate or disable the smoke alarms.
The Protect follows the apparent Nest mission of premium, “smart” updates to widely hated, “dumb” household devices, but I don’t think it’s providing a big enough benefit to a big enough problem for many people to upgrade. If your smoke detector has too many false alarms, moving it is going to be a far more effective upgrade. And if you can’t move it, you probably also can’t replace it.
Nest’s app is so clunky that this isn’t as easy as it should be. It’s a fantastic example of good-looking visual design but abysmal functional design. Anyone who calls Nest’s app “well-designed” probably hasn’t used it. ↩︎
Don’t fry in olive oil — it has a low smoke point, and if you’re frying hot enough to make it smoke (likely if you’re frying, say, chicken), you probably won’t notice the taste difference, and a higher-heat oil will cause much less smoke. I prefer safflower.