Nest is owned by Google, which means there's a chance its products will never integrate with Apple's smart home platform. That's left room for some slightly less flashy alternatives that work with Apple's HomeKit: iDevices and Ecobee sell smart thermostats, and now, First Alert is offering a smart smoke alarm.
Silence false alarms from an iPhone app or Apple Watch
First Alert's Onelink alarm is a smoke and carbon monoxide detector that can be controlled through an iPhone. You can use the phone to silence alarms, look back through alerts, and control a nightlight built into the device. That's basically everything that the Nest Protect can do, which means that anyone building their smart home around the iPhone should be able to get a smart smoke detector without losing out on helpful features.
The big difference between First Alert's product and the Nest Protect is that the Onelink alarm has a built-in battery that's supposed to keep it running for 10 years. First Alert says it chose this solution both so that owners don't have to keep changing batteries and because local laws in many places require 10-year batteries inside of alarms, so this opens up where it can be sold. After 10 years, you just have to toss the alarm out — the battery isn't replaceable at all (this is likely because it's recommended that smoke detectors be replaced every 10 years). The Nest Protect, on the other hand, relies on AA batteries.
Like Nest, First Alert is selling both a battery only version of its alarm and a hardwired version, which also includes the battery backup. The battery-powered version, which sells for $109, is missing the nightlight feature available on the hardwired version, which sells for $119. Both are available now in Lowe's stores and will soon be available on Amazon, in other hardware stores, and in Apple Stores. First Alert also plans to roll out new HomeKit devices throughout next year, including a safe and a combined carbon monoxide, temperature, and humidity sensor.
First Alert has tried to make smart home devices before, but they've never been a success. Mark Devine, senior vice president of product development at First Alert, says that its old products confused buyers because they relied on an additional hub — apparently, people would buy sensors, realize they couldn't set them up without a hub, and then just give up and return them. HomeKit products are able to work around that by essentially using the iPhone as a hub. The Onelink alarm primarily relies on Bluetooth, using that to speak with iPhones in the home. When smoke or carbon monoxide is detected, the alarm will move over to Wi-Fi so that it can also contact people outside the house.
"First and foremost this has to be a home safety device."
The alarm can be updated over time to keep up with new versions of HomeKit and iOS. But Devine says that connectivity is essentially siloed from the basic functions of the alarm to prevent failure. "There is a blockade there," Devine says. Even if all connectivity dies, the alarm will still sound if it detects smoke or carbon monoxide. "First and foremost this has to be a home safety device."
The Onelink alarm is a key addition to the HomeKit ecosystem, which is still very young at this point. Smart home products that work with the iPhone only started rolling out in June, and so far we've mostly seen power outlets, locks, thermostats, and various environmental sensors. First Alert may not be as exciting as Nest, but it's offering a really easy jumping in point for smart home tech.