Why I’m not Buying an Apple Smoke Detector

| Editorial

If Apple makes a smoke detector, I'm not buying it. Considering the bag of hurt HomeKit is, I'm just not ready to trust a life or death-level product to Apple regardless of how awesome my Mac, iPhone, and iPad may be.

An Apple smoke detector alert system? No thanksAn Apple smoke detector alert system? No thanks

I've declared my anti-Apple smoke detector stance because earlier today the U.S. Patent Office published the company's patent (thanks, Patently Apple) describing a system where networked devices can detect smoke from fires. The concept is great: It lets various electronic devices, which presumably will include our Macs, iOS devices, and Apple TVs, to monitor the air around us. Since it's likely there will be more of those than smoke detectors in our homes, they could give us earlier alerts to fires compared to smoke detectors alone.

Earlier smoke detection sounds awesome, especially since seconds can mean the difference between surviving a house fire and becoming a tragic victim. According to Apple's patent, our devices could automatically call the fire department and relay information such as our address, and where in the home smoke has been detected.

I'm still loving the idea, but I just can't get excited. The problem for me is that Apple can't put together a system that's reliable enough to make me confident it turn my lights on when I want. If saying, "Hey Siri, set the scene to watching TV," dim the living room and turn off my office lights, how can I trust an iSmoke Detector to accurately detect a fire and alert me, let alone reliably call the fire department?

As it stands today, HomeKit doesn't turn lights on or off when it should—at least not consistently—often tells me it can't connect to my Hue lights and Lutron Caseta smart switches, and no longer works outside of my local network no matter what I do.

Compared to detecting fires and calling for emergency help, turning lights on and reporting room temperatures sounds like a walk in the park. Apple's inability to give us true reliability with HomeKit doesn't bode well for home gear that's supposed to alert us when there's a fire.

To be fair, the park Apple is currently walking in is a pretty rough place. Designing a platform where devices from multiple vendors all talks together and operates in concert is no easy task. Apple created its HomeKit platform so we can use lights, air sensors, thermostats, door locks, and more through a unified interface regardless of which company makes the gear we use. Apple also included strict security requirements in HomeKit so we don't need to worry about hackers taking over our homes remotely, which is another great feature because I don't need script-kiddies hacking my Hue lights at 3AM and turning my living room into an in-home version of a sleazy disco.

Apple is working to improve HomeKit, and I'd like to think it's going to improve. I also like to think Apple would have better success with its own smoke alarm system since it would be an in-house project where every element is under the company's control.

Still, I'm not ready to buy into Apple smoke detectors. At least, not until Siri can consistently turn off my lights when I go to bed.

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I have 12 Hue lights in my AR home including 4 outside in the cabana behind the house.  I also have 10 Hue lights in my TX home. Other than an inability to connect to the Hub in AR maybe 5 beta updates ago. I haven’t had any issues. The proximity alarms are great as are the ability to schedule or activate lights while away.  Though the real promise of HomeKit is the integration of multiple devices.  I use only the latest Apple Extreme (Regular and Time Capsule) routers though I’m unsure that has any bearing. I look forward to buying more HomeKit items as they come out and I see a need.  I do think Apple could do better wrapping it up in a better package such as the “Home” app on the App Store but thus far, with the lights, it works fine.  Just my 2 cents.


Wouldn’t Apple’s patent indicate that your Apple devices would detect smoke *in addition to* your current smoke detector?  If so, I see no issue with being redundant when it comes to detecting smoke.  As such, no issue for me, I’d activate this setup in a heartbeat.

Doug Petrosky

You are mixing things up. You might be justified in not trusting the HomeKit implementation of various third parties to work consistently but that is not what you said. You implied that an Apple made smoke detector would not be trustworthy and I have to disagree. Apple makes very reliable hardware that works great with it’s products.

The biggest problem with HomeKit is that Apple hasn’t stepped into the hardware fray to show the third party companies how it should be done. I’d love to see apple step up with a full set of sensors, switches, and alike but I’d be happy if they would simply make a great camera/mic that I could easily access from anywhere. I know those devices exist, but one tied in through homekit is something I’d like to see.


So Jeff Gamet wrote an article on why he won’t buy a product that doesn’t exist? Seek therapy Jeff.


From a guy who said how great the google router is/was?


<quote>According to Apple’s patent, our devices could automatically call the fire department and relay information such as our address, and where in the home smoke has been detected.</quote>

Still an auto-dialer.  “Smoke in the hallway!” doesnt tell the dispatcher the full nature of the fire.  Are there people trapped?  Do they just need to vent a couple rooms, or do they need to page out miltiple alarms? 

Plus what would it take to get certified and insured to do this?  Imagine the liability.

Apple should work with emergency services on this if they aren’t already.


Apple has always best succeeded when they make both the software and the hardware. Trying to develop software for all the different Home Automation “standards” is a far worse task than would be developing OS-X for all the different PCs out there.

That’s why I disagree with the author. I believe Apple HomeKit hardware would be much better integrated.

That said, I believe Siri’s name should be Sorry. That’s how the majority of her answers begin.

Old UNIX Guy


I couldn’t even finish reading this article due to the excessive number of very bad grammatical errors.  Some result in non-sensical sentences.

This isn’t like you ... hope something isn’t wrong…


I could not agree more. This is in fact a good example of what I’ve been saying for a couple of years now: Much of the “Internet of Things” and “Smart Home Automation” is a solution liking for a problem. I have a bunch of smoke detectors in my house, wired and battery. They work. They do what I need them to. There’s no wondering if the network will be down or will my hub computer will be rebooting. They just work.

Old UNIX Guy
I see your point about grammar. However I saw it as a more conversational style. I use it myself when I’m doing scripts. Sometimes Grammar has to be flexible to convey a feeling.
Or you might be right about something being amiss.


I also couldn’t agree more, and I would apply the same logic to nearly all current or proposed automation or reliance on artificial intelligence. The hype is out of control - we just aren’t there yet. It is legitimately frightening to me that we are even considering a lot of things on the table, and not because of some sci-fi singularity, but because the stuff just doesn’t *work*.

A recent case in point: A couple is in the process of procuring financing to buy a home. A machine error exists in the data. No human eyes are looking at the data, because the software is supposed to parse said data and discover these types of errors. Couple notices error themselves and contacts institution. After much hassle the error is resolved, but the couple are told no one would have even looked because the software would almost certainly have caught the error after a couple of weeks. The problem is, had the error not been rectified that day, the couple would have lost their financing entirely, period, end of story, and all because the machine wasn’t capable of making the connections that resolved the issue, one which was introduced by the machine in the first place (and in case you were wondering, yes, the couple in the story was me and my wife).

There are a great many situations in life that are more critical than this - can you imagine that catastrophes that could ensue? I’m not at all worried about being supplanted by some god-like intelligence overthrowing the human race, that just isn’t how the technology works (and technology is an awesome tool when properly harnessed and directed), but truthfully, what lies under the veneer of all of our current advances isn’t all that fundamentally different than what we had decades ago. To be doing all of this knowingly for the sake of profit is flat-out insane.


I’ve used X10 lighting automation control modules for decades, yet lately I’m puzzled by home automation devices, which seem more concerned with trivial features than accomplishing mission critical tasks, or as Jeff Gamet calls them “life or death-level.”  In my view,  any home automation system MUST work even if internet or wifi access is lost and/or electrical power goes off.  Locks must remain locked (unless manually unlocked), smoke detectors must still function, hackers must be kept out, etc.

Apple is undoubtedly working on new products to wow and amaze us, but they seem to have focused their efforts on those projects, rather than making or keeping existing products (mainly software) “insanely great.” That is, with a great user interface that performs simply, intuitively, consistently, and reliably. Apple has dropped the ball too much lately, with iTunes the biggest example.  While I don’t always agree with Farhad Manjoo at the NY Times, he’s on the mark when he writes “When it releases stuff, it should move faster to fix and improve what is wrong.” And, in my view, do so for a reasonable number of years—at least 5 or more—after purchase.

Making HomeKit work with any and all automation devices is a fool’s errand and dumpster fire akin to Windows. I’m not convinced Apple should make these devices themselves—except the base controller—since they don’t seem to have the personnel or the commitment to keeping their software working great. And because such products from Apple would probably come at premium prices. I’d rather Apple certified such products from a few experienced, reputable vendors. In this way, Apple would make the base controller—which would not be a Mac, idevice, or Apple TV— and the software to run it reliably and near flawlessly.

Perhaps Apple will have to abandon the idea of free operating software upgrades, so that they have the cash and the OBLIGATION to keep such software running reliably. Maybe minimal upgrade prices would accomplish this, perhaps $10 for iOS and TVOS, and $19-$29 for Mac OS.  But it’s the commitment, the obligation, rather than the price, that’s crucial.

When it comes to buying new devices, reputation is pretty important. After all, aren’t customers’ actual experiences with the Apple ecosystem a key determinant of whether customers continue to buy products that rely that ecosystem?


Totally agree.  Now substitute “self driving car” for smoke detector and you see why Apple’s current quality problems are a huge problem for its future.

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