The Future of Light: Hue goes open source

ImageFirst things first: Have you made the switch to Hue LED lightbulbs by Philips?

Second things second: Why haven’t you?

Philips and Apple teamed up to quietly introduce the remote-controlled smart bulbs last October. I picked up a starter pack out of curiosity. Realizing I could now live in the home-of-the-future, I raided every Apple store in the Metroplex, cleaning out the very limited introductory inventory.

But fear not – the bulbs are back and better than ever.

Here’s a sentence you might not have ever expected to read: these lightbulbs will knock your socks off. Using a smartphone app provided by Philips, you can control the color and intensity of the light in your home. Each individual bulb can be set to any color in the visible light spectrum and the brightness of your choice. They can be set on a timer to gently wake you up or guide you through your day. You can even create looks around specific memories, pulling colors straight out of your photos.

But Philips has not stopped at this level of innovation, deciding to unlock the programming and  allow outside developers to play. The first notable result: Ambify.

The new app ($2.99 in iTunes) turns your music into a light show. Running your playlist through an algorithm, it communicates with your light bulbs to bounce with the beat. If you ever want your dinner guests to think they’re at a hip gay bar, this is the app for you.

There are still some kinks to be worked out with the new technology, some of which can be tackled by developers while others need to be addressed by Philips (or its competitors, who I’m sure are racing to catch up). The biggest obstacle is cost. Each bulb currently costs $60. That’s after you buy the required Starter Pack for $200, which includes 3 bulbs and a Bridge – basically a router to connect the bulbs to your network. Keep in mind that LEDs last about a gazillion years and consume less energy, and since you’re able to control the intensity, could potentially bring lifetime costs even lower. And this is a brand new product – surely as it takes hold of some market share, production increases, and as other manufacturers get on the field, costs will become more competitive.

Some of your favorite colors may not come across as well as you might hope. Greens are pretty weak, and blues tend either towards white or purple. And of course you can’t have brown light. But the rest of the spectrum you can choose is pretty remarkable.

My biggest complaint is app-accessibility. It’s been a big learning curve, adapting to this technology. Even now, I find myself reaching for the wall switch instead of my phone. Part of the trouble is that you have to unlock your phone, select the app, wait a couple seconds as it loads, and then finally turn on/off the lights. Imagine doing that when getting up to pee in the middle of the night. Outside developers might come up with some cool solutions, and I’m going to try something a little DIY: When I get a new phone, I’ll keep the old one as a dedicated remote. But I think the real game change is going to come when Apple and Google embrace the new technology, building controls into the lock screen or maybe even the phone hardware itself.

Philips only unveiled its software development kit this week, and already entrepreneurs are adapting the technology for apps as captivating as Ambify. The future is <wait for the light bulb pun> bright.

3 thoughts on “The Future of Light: Hue goes open source”

  1. I think it’s a very cool idea. I actually have a couple of similar bulbs coming from the kick starter campaign that I supported. These bulbs are called LifX and seem pretty similar. Here is their website if you’re interested. http://lifx.co/. I never thought I would get excited about a lightbulb but I can’t wait until mine get here.

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  2. I wonder if there is an app that listens for your vocal tones. When you give a stern lecture to your children, the lights slowly dim and darken, then shutter as your voice shakes, and finally give a blinding glare as your voice crescendos. Well. . . it would be fun.

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    1. I love it! I think we’ll start seeing a sort of “Rule 34.” If you can imagine it, it’s probably going to exist. Certainly they’re going to have to integrate with Siri at some point, and if it’s got that vocal recognition then why not? All it takes is one entrepreneurial developer. With Hue, Nest, Apple TV and AirPlay, the heavy lifting is already done – the home of the future is already here, and it’s all controlled from your phone. Now it’s just about fitting new exciting pieces into the existing puzzle.

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