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For Nest founder and CEO Tony Fadell, irritation is the mother of invention. In a blog post on Tuesday, he recounts how he lay in bed one night, staring at the blinking light on his smoke detector, unable to make sense of it and worried about being awakened by its low-battery chirp.
Worse still for Fadell, who evidently has internalized the aesthetic fanaticism of his former employer, Apple, the smoke detector was unlovely.
"The smoke alarm was a black box painted beige," Fadell said, as if its uninspired color scheme were a sin equal to its annoying sound and its inscrutable blinking. "I trusted it with the safety of my family, but my first instinct was to tear it off the ceiling every time it made a noise. And we've all been there."
No doubt many of us have been there -- but not all of us have a company that can do something about it. Believing that most people hated their current smoke alarms, Fadell thought Nest could make one that people would adore.
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The result is Nest Protect, an attractive $129 smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector that can be controlled with a gesture, can communicate with mobile devices, and that warns about problems in a human voice. Citing a study by researchers at Victoria University, the company claims that spoken alerts provide not only clarity about what's wrong but awaken children more effectively than an alarm noise.
In an echo of Apple's strategic linkage of its iPod hardware and iTunes software -- Fadell served as senior VP in Apple's iPod division for two years -- Nest Protect also communicates with Nest's first product, the Nest Learning Thermostat, through the owner's Nest account. In the event that carbon monoxide is detected, Protect will instruct a Nest thermostat in the same home to shut off a connected gas heater. The device also acts as an additional motion sensor, which is used to instruct the thermostat when people are home and rooms should be heated.
Nest Protect includes other thoughtful touches absent from typical smoke alarms. It lights up when it detects motion nearby. It provides a heads-up warning to explain where trouble has been detected and to allow occupants to silence the alarm with a hand wave if the situation is not an emergency. It makes its battery and sensor status available on mobile phones and tablets and will send alerts if it detects smoke or carbon monoxide.
"It's time to love your smoke and carbon monoxide alarm," Fadell said.
Nest Protect, available in black or white and shipping in early November, might just make that happen.