August's New Access Lock Works, But Trust May Take Longer

The smart home can't just be clever, it needs to be impeccably designed, but while August's expanded range satisfies both criteria it may be user trust that really needs an upgrade. I spent some time with the Smart Keypad, Doorbell Cam, and the HomeKit version of the Smart Lock today, as well as talking with August's exec team about whether even committed automation fans are ready to hand over the digital keys to the cable guy.

August's hardware chops are notorious, and the new additions to the range are no different. The Smart Keypad, for instance, could've been an uninspiring slab of off-the-shelf membrane buttons, but instead the keys are tactile and the backlighting gently glows when someone steps near.

On its own the proportions – particularly the depth – are a little off, to my eyes at least, and it looks a lot better nestled up close to the Doorbell Cam, at which point they almost look like a single unit. That too has some neat detailing, like the way the fascia is effectively split into four quadrants and how the speaker and lens balance each other on opposite sides of the button.

Meanwhile the new HomeKit-blessed Smart Lock is carefully evolved, addressing some early-adopter complaints. The cover plate now clings on magnetically – you push the bottom edge, then pull off at the top to reveal the two AA batteries – and the knurling around the edge makes it grippier.

A pronounced ridge along the top should, August says, make it easier to see whether the door is locked or not from across the room, without having to reach for a smartphone or even call out to Siri.

Still, I can't help but think that those same early-adopters will be more frustrated by the fact that their existing smart lock can't get a HomeKit upgrade. That's not entirely August's fault, mind, since Apple demands a special chip as part of devices wanting to integrate with the platform.

You can't knock August's devotion to a slick experience. The HomeKit-enabled version of the Smart Lock, for instance, is the result of two and a half years collaboration with Apple on its home automation platform. It's not just asking Siri to "lock my front door," but the ability to ask "Siri, are any of my doors unlocked?" and have the results read out to you.

If you've coughed up the $230 apiece to have multiple doors Augustified, you can command them all to lock and unlock in one fell swoop.

Similarly, August isn't the first to make a camera-equipped doorbell, but the Doorbell Cam claims to be smarter than just a webcam and a buzzer. There's video analytics inside the camera itself, for instance, which searches the scene to make sure there's actually a human there rather than just a change in the lighting or a passing car.

Assuming that's the case, the app automatically starts the process of establishing a video stream with audio: that way, when you hit "answer" on your phone, it connects near-instantaneously.

My lingering question isn't about technology, though, but human nature. I might trust August's Smart Lock, but I'm not entirely sure I trust everybody who works for Postmates, Doorman, Shyp, or any of the other services August Access plays nicely with.

Letting someone into your home means feeling comfortable, not just that they won't steal or break something, but that they're not going to dig through your drawers, look through the credit card statements and letters on your desk, or lick your flatware. I don't worry so much about it when I can hover nearby, but I don't know if I'd have such peace-of-mind if all I knew was when they'd arrived and when they left.

According to August's Yves Behar, the company is counting on me – and people like me – feeling differently as time goes on. "If I'd told you a few years ago that a kid on his break from McDonald's would be picking you up and driving you," he pointed out, speaking of Uber's ridesharing service UberX, "you'd have said "What? Just give me my black car.'"

Until that happens, Behar suggested, peace of mind could come through other components in the flourishing smart home segment. Nest Camera, for instance, might give me the reassurance that a rogue Sears agent wasn't riffling through my tax returns.

Meanwhile, he pointed out, each of the partners has its own guarantee of trustworthiness, though whether that amounts to a specific insurance figure depends on the company. When I asked whether users of August Access might reasonably expect the firm to put its own money where its mouth is, and itself provide a fund for covering thefts or damage, Behar told me that the final details of the system as a whole are still being worked out between now and the services rolling out.

August Access is, of course, only optional. The tipping point for each individual user – if, indeed, one occurs – will likely be when a service they already rely upon and have built trust with is added to the roster. I'm unlikely, perhaps, to specifically go out and try an on-demand service simply because it's integrated with August; I might, however, be more likely to give them temporary access to my smart lock if I've already worked with them and feel some sense of rapport.

Until then, the HomeKit-enabled Smart Lock, Doorbell Cam, and Smart Keypad are solid additions to August's line-up, even if adding them all to a single door could turn into a fairly expensive upgrade.