Last year, Philips, the big electronics conglomerate, released some light bulbs called the Hue, which can be controlled individually to change colors and fade in and out and go off and on. They made quite a splash. But in the last week, Philips upgraded the free app for iOS devices and added other features that take the Hue light bulbs deep into the future. Among other things, the Hue light bulbs now work with a timer to go on and off and change scenes. They can also work with geofencing data from your iOS device to sense when you are coming home and go on, and also they work with the wonderful website IFTTT so that they can be triggered from all sorts of data on the web, like weather data, or text messaging, etc.
Simply put, the Hue light bulbs are a game changer and really represent our future where we will be able to control our surroundings with specificity and also automate everyday functions.
So How Much Does It Cost And What Do you Get?
You can get a Hue starter kit which consists of three bulbs and a bridge to control bulbs for $199 in the Amazon store and also the Apple Store. An individual Hue light bulb costs $59.95 in the Apple store. Set up is easy: the bridge is a round, small white disk with blue glowing buttons. You plug it into your wifi router (and also plug in its electric power plug). You then launch the free Hue App that you downloaded on your iOS device. And then you press the button on your Hue bridge and the app finds the bridge and the bulbs that are automatically connected to it. When you add additional bulbs beyond the three bulbs in the starter set, you search for them in your app. Set up was really easy for me. Altogether I hooked up 5 Hue light bulbs. I have two more that I plan to install soon.
Don’t Forget The Power Savings from the Hue Bulb!
Before you worry that the Hue light bulbs are expensive realize that they are LED bulbs that only use 8.5 watts of power. The traditional light bulbs I replaced use 65 watts of power and give our the same or less lumens that the Hues give off (the Hue bulbs give off 600 lumens). Where I live the cost of electricity and delivery comes to around 22 cents per kilowatt. The Hue light bulbs also have an estimated life of 15,000 hours. The bulbs in my home they replaced have a life of 3,000 hours. So if the lightbulb I replaced costs $4 over the course of 15,000 hours I would go through 5 of them for $20. Still you say they Hue at nearly $60 is 3 times more than $20. Yes, but look at the energy savings over 15,000 hours. By getting the Hue I will save 56.5 watts for each bulb. So each bulb saves:
(15,000 x. 56.5)/1000 x $0.22 = $186.45
So if you are replacing 40 standard bulbs in your home, you will save (using these same cost of electricity assumptions):
$186.45 x 40 - ($30 x 40) (the cost difference of the bulbs) = $6,258.
Over the life of the Hue bulbs, you would save over $6,000 as compared to keeping your traditional non LED bulbs. Of course you purchase non-programable LED bulbs (including those made by Philips) that are half the cost of the Hue bulbs and still give you energy savings.
So the Hue bulbs aren’t just a luxury – they are a way to save money if you currently have traditional bulbs.
Lets take a look at how right now the Hue light bulbs are a game changer.
Automation with the Hue App
The Hue App itself, now has allot of automation built in. On May 14,2013, Philips updated the app to version 1.10 and provided these new features:
What’s New in Version 1.1.0
- Geofencing feature: Scenes can now automatically turn on when coming home and turn off when leaving home
- Scenes can now be switched on or off using a timer between 1 and 59 minutes
- Alarms can now be set to recur in a weekly schedule and with a random offset for the start and end time
- Fades of alarms now start at the set time instead of ending at the set time
- Increased reliability of alarms
- Improved vibrant colors for LivingColors and Hue lights and added support for LivingWhites
- When activating a scene the lights change at the same time synchronously
- Compatible lights can now be added to the system using their serial number
These features were taken as a major upgrade by those who have been following the Hue light bulb phenomena.
Remote Internet Control
The Hue’s bridge connects to the internet and if you log in through your Hue App and create an account on the MeetHue.com website, you can control all your Hue connected lightbulbs through the internet. This means if you are out of town and want to put the lights on, you can trigger it remotely. This could be handy if you want to put the light on because you are going to use a video monitor to observe your house or apartment. Or maybe you just want to put the lights on because you are concerned people know you are away and may break in.
Scenes For Different Groups Of Bulbs and Settings
The most helpful feature of the Hue app is that it allows you to assign bulbs to different custom scenes. The custom scenes can be named and given different light colors and light intensity. Moreover, you can assign particular bulbs to each scene. For example, I created two scenes for just the bulbs in my bedroom.
I called one scene “Low BD ” and the other “High BD.” When I press the former, the lamp in the bedroom gets brighter and goes to the highest stetting. When I press the Low BD button it goes down in intensity. I could create other buttons which have the lamp change to a specific color or light Hue. You get different pages so you can create countless scenes and store them on various pages. You can rename the pages and just like apps on the iOS platform you can press, wiggle and then drag the scene to another page. I named the first page “Main.” You can create all sorts of groupings of the light bulbs, such as having various scene buttons for lights in the living room, other scene buttons for lights in the hallway, kitchen, bathroom, etc. Right now you are limited to controlling 50 bulbs at one time from the Hue app as the Hue app can only connect to one Hue bridge at a time and the Hue bridge can only connect to up to 50 bulbs. You can of course install more than one Hue bridge in your home or business, and have up to multiples of 50 bulbs for the number of bridges you have. But each bridge will have to be controlled by a different iOS device.
Geofencing is maybe the most intriguing new feature in the Hue app. Right now it is limited to checking of boxes that say “Switch scene on when I arrive” or “Switch scene off when I leave,” or add the limiting rule that this should only occur “Only outside of daylight hours.” If you return home during daylight hours, that limiting check mark will prevent the light from going on but at night it will go on if you return then. In the future, we are probably going to see more geofencing functionality, like a light blinking or changing color when you arrive at work so your family knows you made it, or a light change when you arrive at a certain store to remind the folks back at home you are there. Or how about a light that changes color the farther you are from home?
Automation With IFTTT
IFTTT, stands for “If This Than That”, and on that site you can create “recipes” which are essentially automation actions. For example, you can have a recipe where a text is sent to you every morning telling you the weather. Or you can create a rule that emails with attachments have the attachments dumped into your DropBox folder. But now, your Hue light bulbs, which are connected to the internet, can be controlled by IFTT recipes. So you can create all sorts of crazy recipes that trigger your Hue lightbulbs to change color, blink on and off, change color scenes, etc. Already there are interesting recipes, such as if it begins to rain then change the light colors to blue, or loop your Hue through a rainbow of colors at sunrise, or if you receive an email from a specific address then blink certain Hue lights to notify you.
Third Party Apps
The other great thing that Philips has done is provide APIs for Hue so that third-party developers can create innovative apps. Already ready there are various free or pad apps in the iOS App store. One interesting free app is Hue Party app which allows music to trigger light changing to the beat of the music. It also purports to cause a strobe through shaking the phone and taps to change the beat of the lights. I haven’t used it yet but it looks interesting and fun.
My first impression is that the recent app and API upgrade by Philips has made the Hue light bulb and bridge a great futuristic product. I can’t wait to see what additional functionality Philips will provide and what interesting things developers do with the third party apps.
But I am really excited because I think that what Philips is doing is just the start. Philips competitors will also release wireless-controlled light bulbs and other everyday items will also probably be controlled by wireless signals and other means. Maybe in the future we will have light bulbs which we can project a picture, a movie or a hologram. Imagine walking into a building and using your smartphone or Google Glass to control various lights or to project your photos and other media. It is going to be crazy in the future!