Nest Protect Is The Politest Smoke Alarm You've Ever Met

Two years ago, Tony Fadell, inventor of the iPod and chief executive of Nest Labs, applied Apple-style design savvy to remaking the humble thermostat. Now, Fadell and company have updated another unloved household staple: the smoke detector.

Like Nest's Learning Thermostat, the forthcoming Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm offers a smarter, more user-friendly take on a boring-but-functional appliance, albeit it for about four times the cost of its simpler cousins.

"We want to take things you already know and reinvent them," Fadell said of Nest's design philosophy. "We don't need new products. We need to take existing products and make them better."

Marketed with the motto, "Safety shouldn't be annoying," Nest Protect has features that make it easier to silence during false alarms and supplements the traditional strident beeping with spoken alerts and color-coded signals.

nest protect smoke alarm
False alarm? Wave your hands to stop the beeping.

Think of it as the politest smoke alarm ever. Nest Protect's "Heads Up" function will alert homeowners to the presence of smoke or carbon monoxide before it reaches emergency levels and then allow them to dismiss the alarm with the wave of a hand. In theory, that means no more flapping dishtowels when burnt toast or a particularly smoky cut of steak set off the sensor. To indicate it has sufficient battery, the device glows green when the lights in the room are turned off. And thanks to its motion sensors, Nest can even act as a nightlight, glowing faintly when it perceives motion in a dark hallway.

Nest Protect is chattier than the typical smoke detector. Multiple units can communicate wirelessly across a home; the alarms can send alerts to homeowners' mobile phones; and they have a motherly voice they use to communicate, in addition to the typical beeps.

According to Fadell, Nest auditioned some 30 voice talents in each of the three countries where Nest Protect will be launching -- the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom -- before it found three that were the right blend of "friendly," "warm but not too warm" and "authoritative but not too authoritative."

Each Nest Protect unit will cost $129, making it one of the costlier smoke and carbon monoxide detectors currently available. The Nest Learning Thermostat, which retails for $249, is also more expensive than competing offerings. Though the latter device has won critical acclaim and a series of design awards, Nest Labs has so far declined to specify how many people have ponied up for its high-end thermostat.

The new smoke alarm is still undergoing testing by independent agencies to ensure that it meets safety standards. Nest expects it to go on sale in November.

nest protect smoke alarm
Nest Protect as a nightlight.