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A Bluetooth door lock that puts the kettle on? NOW we're in the future

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Another electronic door lock that can be operated wirelessly has launched. Wait, come back: this time it looks cool and promises to, one day, control your kettle, lights and other stuff connected to the future's Internet of Things.

The $200 barrel lock, codenamed "August", was on Wednesday unveiled by self-described serial entrepreneur Jason Johnson. He attempted to justify the device by highlighting its ability to issue temporary digital keys to invited visitors - a mere decade after the same thing was demonstrated by Japan's DoCoMo, a technology called Felica.

Felica - which can be viewed as a predecessor to radiowave-powered communications technology NFC (found in pay-by-wave bank cards and such stuff) - is ubiquitous in Japanese handsets and has been able to manage digital door keys for years. But Felica is not used much - some rented apartments and hotels adopted the tech - as the cost of fitting and maintaining the locks is prohibitive.

Electronic keyholes aren't limited to the Land of the Rising Sun: the Wi-Fi-connected Lockitron is $20 cheaper than Johnson's August and can be remotely controlled (and unlocked) over the internet: either you operate it via Lockitron's website or wave an authorised Bluetooth compatible iPhone near it.

But the Lockitron's reliance on Wi-Fi to reach the internet will certainly lead to a shorter battery life - we can't judge that properly as both the Lockitron and the August are little more than slideware right now. The Lockitron's designers said their gadget's batteries will last "up to" one year.

Wi-Fi is probably excessive for a lock, which is why the August is using Bluetooth Low Energy, a tech that does exactly what it says on the tin. That also enables the August to work when its internet connectivity goes down; as mentioned above, the Lockitron can also fall back to Bluetooth 4.0 to accept digital keys.

Protecting the lock's cryptographic keys stored on an insecure handset is a security headache, however. Felica, with its built-in secured storage electronics, doesn’t have that problem, and neither does NFC which is why the mainstream manufacturers such as Yale and HID Global are sticking with NFC for their e-lock products.

Solutions from existing lock manufacturers won't turn on the lights nor stick the kettle on as one enters the house. Neither will the August, not yet at least, but Johnson's presentation at the AllThingsD conference this week promised the August will have an open programming interface, so someone could create such a kettle if they wished.

The August isn't a door lock, it's a 21st Century lifestyle choice. That's what we're told, anyway.

It would be nice to say that the obvious shortfall in desirable functionality, and existing competitors, would damn the August to market failure, but that would be ignoring the power of slick design and celebrity backing. A thousand people apparently ordered an August in the first hour of its unveiling, again proving (as though proof were needed) that looking good is much more important than being utilitarian. ®

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