Internet-enabled smart locks aren't a new idea, but they've usually been ugly, clunky, and required monthly service fees. But a new company called August is trying again, with a beautiful Yves Behar-designed lock module and a free service that allows you to send and receive access keys to anyone with an iPhone 5 or 4S. It's reminiscent of nothing so much as the Nest smart thermostat, which also shook up a staid market with smart design and clever software. Unlike the Nest, however, the August Smart Lock promises interoperability with other smart devices — cofounder Jason Johnson serves as the chairman of the Internet of Things Consortium.

a private social network for your door

Just as the Nest replaces a standard thermostat, August retrofits existing deadbolt locks; the basic installation involves taking out two screws and replacing your existing interior lock turn, keeping the actual lock mechanism and exterior key plate intact. Once installed, you can manually lock the door from the inside by turning the chunky, ridged lock module itself, or you can bring your iPhone within range of the unit — it operates using Bluetooth Low Energy — and control it that way.

Keys can be shared to anyone running the app, and can be set to only be active for specific periods so you can give friends access for a weekend party or a babysitter access for a night, while other users can be given permanent access. The system keeps an entry log of everyone who's come in and out, and you can leave notes and photos for people as they come and go — it's almost a private social network for your door.

Interestingly, the August unit doesn't rely on your home Wi-Fi, instead connecting briefly to the August service through the Bluetooth link with your phone when it's being locked and unlocked. Power is similarly independent and comes from four AA batteries — Johnson said he expects them to last between six months and a year depending on usage. The app prominently displays the lock's battery level, so a dead battery won't be a surprise. The idea is to keep your lock independent from the utilities in your home, so that it works even if you lose power or broadband service.

As for what happens when your phone dies, Johnson remained coy, saying only that there would be "things" that could also serve as keys. Asked if other BLE devices like the Fitbit One could be used as keys, Johnson just smiled and repeated the word "things." On stage at D11, Behar said the company will indeed be partnering with other Bluetooth LE devices in the future. Johnson also said that he's interested in building an Android app as well, but Google only just announced support for BLE in Android 4.3 earlier this month, and it'll take significant time for it to reach the majority of Android handsets.

Johnson also promised that the consumer version of August would always be free, although the company plans to charge for business use of the service. There's no launch date as of yet, but pricing is set at $199.