CRYPTOGRAPHER - SOFTWARE ENGINEER

NIK BOUGALIS




Nest Protect

Smoke and CO2 detector save lives.

They also tend to realize that their batteries are running low about 30 seconds after you fall asleep, with their incessant beeping.

So I decided to splurge, and buy the fancy ‘Nest Protect’ device. A trypophobic’s worse nightmare, the Nest Protect is a rather neat device that, like the seminal Thermostat, reimagined not only what the smoke detector looked like but also what it did.

A rather advanced device, it was also user friendly. Rather that incessant, high-frequency shrill, the Protect would sternly warn you about dangerous conditions in perfectly enunciated English. It seemed like a good idea.

So, after a poor night’s sleep, I parted with several hundred of my dollars and got started installing my new, fancy Nest Protects.

The installation was seamless. The hardware is well designed and well built and it’s a pleasure to physically work with.

The setup experience… well, not so much.

Nest provides an app through which you can access your sensors. And, at this point, some of you might be saying “why do you need Internet-connected smart smoke detectors?” and you’d be right. I didn’t need them, but I figured that it’d be a good idea to be able to check in on my home remotely and get notified if smoke was billowing.

The Nest Protect, when unconfigured, acts as a WiFi access point. The app asks you to scan a small QR code on the back of the device, which I assumed would be used as a WiFi password or other mechanism that would allow the app to locate and configure the Nest Protect.

And here’s where things get interesting. You see, I also have a Nest thermostat. And for some reason that I cannot fathom, this means that the app will try to connect to the Nest Protect by going through the thermostat.

Mind you, that I am right next to the Nest Protect and the app could access it via Bluetooth or WiFi or, heck, even ultrasonic beeps via its microphone!). But nope, it will not use any of those mechanisms to talk to the Protect.

And for some reason this attempt to use the thermostat as a relay is failing with cryptic errors like P030, which don’t actually appear anywhere in the documentation or troubleshooting instructions.

And, what’s worse, there’s no fallback.

If I didn’t have a thermostat, the app could connect to the Nest Protect directly. But because I have a thermostat, I have to go through it. There’s no way to bypass it.

Why? Why does the app not allow a “direct connect” fallback, as if you had no thermostat? Why not seamlessly fallback so that I don’t even know that “something went wrong” while Nest was trying to use my thermostat to “assist” especially since an assist is not necessary!

Frustrated and at my wits end, I did what everyone does these days: I reached out to Google/Nest through Twitter:

To their credit, they reached out to me a few minutes later and had me walk through the process a couple of more times, but to no avail.

I did, at least, find out why my Thermostat needs to be involved with my setting up a smoke detector. Apparently, it’s because Google is using something called “Thread” nowdays; it’s a “smart home” protocol for the “Internet of Things” which sounds like a nightmare. And, I guess, it is.

The problem is that after several hours of trying, I’m still unable to get any of these Nest Protect smoke alarms to connect.

The problem is that Google decided to make setup more complex for no good reason. Someone probably came in one day and said “you know, we should add support for Thread and allow one device to help another during setup” and everyone just cheered. But what was meant was “let’s make this more complex so marketing has something to peddle!”

But I digress, because I just heard a beep… a loving, soulful, almost mournful beep. As if my dumb smoke detectors are sending me a little love note.

And you know what? I think I love them too. Even if they wake me up every so often because their batteries are running out.