MY LIGHT-BULB MOMENT
I like to imagine some bright spark product designer at Philips having their light-bulb moment to develop the Hue range…
“It’s like a normal light bulb. But smart. And colourful…” would have been the pitch. “What’s the point in that?!” would have been the response.
Because it’s another cool gadget, of course!
For many households, the purchase of a voice-controlled device such as Amazon’s Echo or Google Home is their first foray into “smart home” territory, and the ability to adjust your lighting remotely is one of the many draws. Manually flicking a switch is deemed to be too much effort nowadays, after all - as is physically answering your door, programming the timer on your thermostat or checking the weather forecast. Why take any of these actions yourself when you can so easily ask Alexa to do them for you?
Amazon are notoriously private about the volume of Alexa-enabled hardware they have sold over the course of the 5 years since the first Echo device launched, but it’s safe to say that internet connectivity for home automation is becoming increasingly prevalent for many of us.
It’s certainly now integral to life in our home. My latest project is the installation of a smart watering system to keep the lawn healthy, which I’m linking to my Netatmo weather station. After that will come the robotic lawnmower...
Where smart lighting is concerned, Philips Hue is likely the brand name you’re most familiar with. Available from a wide range of retailers – both online and bricks-and-mortar stores – the range is easily accessible but commands a hefty price tag with several of the starter kits running into three figures.
So, watts all the fuss about and should you make the switch from your regular, run-of-the-mill, boring bulbs?
You’ll need three components to kick things off: a Philips Hue Bridge, a smartphone or tablet to run the Hue app and the bulbs themselves. The Bridge can control up to 50 bulbs so just the one should suffice in most cases unless, like me, you become a little obsessed and build up a collection of more than 50, but hey, these things add up fast!
The next big decision is whether to cool things down or liven them up…
The bulb options range from warm to cool white lights, or multi-coloured alternatives – all available with or without dimming capabilities (and the corresponding dimmer switch).
When someone says multi-coloured, you might envision between 5 and 10 colours. Perhaps the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet of the rainbow. Philips had other ideas. 16 million of them to be precise. With a spectrum that wide in the palm of your hand, it’s a wonder any Hue owner ever leaves the house; constantly preoccupied with finding the “perfect” ambient lighting for every conceivable occasion.
And it doesn’t end there. Not only are regular bulbs available, but coloured wall lights (both internal and external), pendants, ceiling lights, light strips, mirror lights, spot lights and suspended lights. From kitchen cabinets to bedrooms to garden decking, every home can lend itself to the Hue treatment in a myriad of ways.
I have them in every part of the house including various ‘smart mood’ lamps across the home and office. It’s taken a good number of years to build up the collection, but it’s now a definite go-to when changing a bulb or buying a new light.
One of the things that appealed to me was the ability to set a timer. You only need to have seen Home Alone once to know how important a deterrent a few indoor lights can be. Using the app, you can manually select “home” (lights on) or “away” (lights off) mode from anywhere in the world, or allow geolocation technology to trigger the big switch-on when you’re in the vicinity of your home – returning from the train station on a cold, dark winter night, for instance. There’s certainly something warm and inviting about coming home to a well-lit abode.
But what about traditionalists who don’t want to fumble for their phone every time they want to go to sleep? There are options for them too. Philips have partnered with a range of companies to offer a whole suite of stylish switch options that are wireless and battery-free.
The fact that even my children can change our lighting set-up is testament to both how seamlessly the solution works alongside Alexa and how easy-to-navigate the Hue app interface is. They love having it in their bedrooms and playhouse. It feels like something from Back to the Future II that we can walk into any room and say “turn the lights on”, “turn the lights red” or “set lights to 50%”. By tapping the icon for a specific room, we can select our chosen colour or choose from pre-configured “living scenes” – a so-called “formula” designed to make your room come to life by transitioning slowly through a predefined palette.
The set-up is expensive, there’s no getting around that, but if you’re in the market for a smart lighting solution then Philips Hue sets the standard. They have delivered a flexible and fun solution to what is admittedly a first-world problem, but a fascinating area of focus for tech-obsessive, automation-fiends such as myself nonetheless.