August is a fancy lock that could make you ditch your keys

Updated: This story was updated at 4:50 to correct the story. The August lock doesn’t use Wi-Fi.

For most people it’s going to take a considerable value proposition to get them to shell out $250 for a connected lock. The question that connected lock startup August needs to answer with its product hitting shelves today is whether or not it’s worth it. After playing around with it, the answer falls solidly in the yes category with a bunch of caveats.

August, which launched in May 2013, can make it so you never have to carry your keys again as long as you carry a smartphone when you leave the house. And for iPhone owners today, you never even have to take your phone out of your pocket. You can also use the August app to grant access to people who’d you would normally give a spare key to and they can get in as well. It’s pretty awesome.

The lock connects to your phone via Bluetooth. Thus, you can use your phone to unlock your door. If your phone is dead or not on you, you can use your key, since the you only replace the inside portion of the deadbolt with the August lock. The outside remains the same.

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Your mileage may vary

But there are caveats. First is the big difference in how the lock works today for iOS users and Android users. Folks toting an iPhone get the benefit of being able to unlock their door using geofencing and Bluetooth, which means that it will unlock even if you don’t take your phone out of your pocket. Android users don’t have that feature for “another few months,” which means to unlock your door, you need to take out your phone and open up the app.

If your hands are full, this means you’re just as out of luck as if you had a key to jam into the lock, although at least you’re not having to carry around both keys and a phone. My husband, who has a keyless ignition on his car, would be all over this lock simply to eliminate some of his pocket clutter. I carry a small purse, so it’s not as big a deal to me. I also tend to forget my phone when I walk the dog on mornings when I don’t have a jacket, in part because none of my pockets are big enough to carry my giant phone.

And if you are like me and you tend to forget your phone, I’m going to recommend you don’t use the Ever Lock feature that August has. As you can imagine, the feature automatically locks the door after it closes. While I think it could be awesome for kids or anyone who wants to avoid inserting the key into the lock, I found myself locked out of my house because I stepped outside to get something from the garden without my phone. Of course, this is a function of where the lock is located (my back door) and me just not remembering that I had my lock set to automatically lock behind me.

SideView_072_FB.R6.1-F2And this leads me to another caveat. Unless you’re keen to blow $500 to $750 replacing all your locks, there are certain places the August makes more sense.

The back door is lame, because I wander out there all the time without my smart phone and rarely leave my house that way. I’d pop the August lock on your front door or your garage door, especially if you like the security of knowing your garage door is locked. Of course, if you do it inside the garage, you may not get the benefit of using it as a replacement key for people who need access to your house.

Unfortunately, I have a rare type of door lock that requires me to lift a latch before the door locks instead of a traditional deadbolt, thus the August lock won’t install on my front doors. Hence, my lame, back door location.

Additional features and the install

You can give guests and regularly scheduled people access to your home via the app using a schedule or time frame. You can also give people constant access, but they can’t give out keys. This would work for kids or maybe family members. And finally, you can grant people (like your spouse) ownership status and they can issue keys and control the app as well.

The different levels of access is a nice feature, although I pity the Bay Area housecleaner or dog walker who is stuck with six different locking apps on his or her handset because their employers all have different smart locks. And there are people out there who aren’t using a smartphone or even an iOS or Android phone. Those people will still need a key.

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If you decide to take the plunge, or wait like I would for the Android support, then rest easy knowing that installing the August takes a Phillips head screwdriver and about 10 minutes. The instructions — from making sure you tape the outside of the lock before you take out your screws and providing the tape — are meticulous and easy to follow.

The lock itself is pretty freaking cool. I do wish it had an indicator light that showed if it was locked at a glance instead of having to look on my phone. There is a circle of green lights that glow when the lock engages or disengages, but it’s not always lit. I’m sure that’s done in part to save on the battery. By the way, that battery should last about a year under normal use, with normal being opening and shutting a door about 20 times a day.

Attention to detail

What struck me visiting the August team last month was the amount of physical detail that went into building the lock. This isn’t merely a connected object, but one that has to slam a bolt home consistently every day, about twenty times a day over the life of the lock. The deadbolt turn is a precision-made steel gear set made in Japan. There are a variety of mechanical redundancies and tweaks that range from how you remove the battery case (it hooks in with a satisfying snap thanks to magnets) to the design of the lock itself that will likely impress design aficionados.

In the August office are a row of test locks that are constantly slipping a deadbolt open and closed. Some locks have over 100,000 flips of the bolt so far.
In the August office are a row of test locks that are constantly slipping a deadbolt open and closed. Some locks have over 100,000 flips of the bolt so far.
That’s probably because designer Yves Béhar is a co-founder of August, where his influence is felt in everything from the packaging to the hefty feel of the lock. Béhar will be speaking at our Roadmap event in November, so maybe he’ll share more details on how the August was made. It’s really fascinating.

Finally, because this is a lock, I’ll get into the security aspects of the product. August says that it uses the same communications technology used by financial institutions for online banking, and that it has worked on ways to mitigate false unlocks from inside the door. I couldn’t test this yet, since my Android handset couldn’t use the Auto Unlock feature.

I know that the firm had hired a security firm to try to hack the lock, although it hasn’t disclosed which firm it used. The registration process required many-factor authentication before I could authenticate my lock, although anyone who stole my phone could get access to my home if I didn’t put a passcode on my handset. However, I can also go to the August website and revoke my stolen device’s authentication. I’m comfortable with the security provided since my dumb locks can also be circumvented. This is a lock that provides the same illusion of security as most installed locks while adding more convenience, plus additional features that actually enhance your security.

In short, for the people who purchased a Nest, the August lock is likely the next obvious gadget to pick up. It’s beautiful, highly functional and changes the way you think about an everyday object by adding connectivity. The plans are to integrate the August with HomeKit and a few other programs, including Nest’s as time goes by. Sadly, because my front door is apparently one of the estimated five percent of locks that don’t work with the August lock, I’m out of luck for this particular stage of the revolution, but I will be sad to have it pass me by.