We’ve all done it, you get ready to head to work in the morning and walk to the front door only to find it unlocked. Anyone, welcome or not, might have paid you a visit in the night. Most of the time, these incidents are thankfully consequence-free, but what if a smart-home feature could eliminate the chances of this situation altogether.
Much of the smart home technology we’ve seen to date has performed tasks like tuning a radio or controlling the lighting in a given room. Manufacturers have been apprehensive to move into the high-stakes world of security for understandable reasons.
Now however, you can choose to equip your smart home with door locks that are integrated into the internet of things. Recently, Amazon has added the ability to control these devices to its wireless radio and digital assistant Alexa. The voice-operated device gains the ‘skill’ to operate smart locks made by market frontrunner August much in the way you’d install an app on your phone.
Alexa & August
But just how convenient is the Amazon/August smart lock technology? Will it prove a convenient and time-saving boon to your productivity, or wind up locking you out of your own house or potentially worse?
Looking at the out-of-the box offering from August (what you get without Alexa), the lock operates using Bluetooth and is designed to pair with your iPhone or Android. The iPhone app offers the auto-unlock feature, which is handy because it allows you to program your August lock to unlock when you approach.
The August doesn’t have to be used as part of a smart home “system” so you don’t get the ability to pre-program settings like a night mode that locks all doors, because you might purchase only a single lock. That being said, the latest versions of the lock do ship with Apple Home Kit, which allows this type of programmability.
Once the August skill is installed on your Alexa unit, you can use the voice commands “Alexa, tell August to lock the door,” or “Alexa, tell August to check the status of the front door”, which will report whether the door is locked. The “tell August to” leader must be used to call up Alexa’s skill functionality, since the device doesn’t have integrated functionality for this type of task.
At the moment there isn’t an unlock feature. Unlocking presents a challenge because of the way Alexa doesn’t differentiate between users, a would-be trespasser might take advantage of the command to gain access to someone’s home. August and Amazon are working on a means of making this function secure, for instance by adding a numeric passcode.
We don’t see the August smart lock feature selling a lot of Alexa units. The ability to lock a door or check on it, with no locking feature and the other potential risks of a smart lock (what if it breaks?) are likely not enough to convince someone to go out and buy this product, it’s most likely something that existing owners might see as a perk.
How Functional Is It?
There are some cases where we can see the Alexa integration as an added convenience. For example, if an elderly person or someone who’s not highly mobile wants a good way to keep tabs on their door’s security, the Alexa feature is perfect.
But for most homeowners who come and go every day for work, there’s just not enough here to realize the added productivity that a really well thought-out smart home system should add.
Consider the fact that the August unit already ships with the auto-lock feature for iOS, and now with Apple Home Kit, which adds significant features on top of Alexa’s paltry two, and the August integration skill really looks like a hand-out to Android users who feel like they missed the boat.
There is hope, if Amazon can ditch the “tell August to” lingo and deliver a more robust feature set in future versions, an August/Alexa setup could do things like allowing one to ask Alexa for “goodnight mode” and have all the locks on the house engage. That’s delivering a noticeable increase in productivity.
However, the current feature set falls short of impressing. Can you imagine arriving home, unlocking the door manually because you’re not an iPhone user, and then asking Alexa to lock the door only to be shut down in that cold, digital voice? Walking back to the door to lock it is the opposite of increased productivity.
None of the problems with this system are died-in-the wool. In fact, it’s likely that the bright people at Amazon and August are working tirelessly as you read this to get that lock feature figured out and integrate the Alexa unit into a more robust smart-home system that can save you time, instead of just a glorified radio.
For now, however, those who want a baked-in security setup in the form of a smart lock are better off just setting up Apple Home Kit.
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