Philips Hue: Lighting people want Tom Griffiths – Publisher
November 8, 2012…Spurred by a recent announcement of some new "network-connected" light bulbs, last time around we posed the question, "How should we interact with our lights?" Overall, we gave that company's approach good marks for innovation as a test bed for the utilities, and a portent of our lighting-connected future, but held back on our endorsement of the current usefulness. In a somewhat analogous announcement at the end of October, Philips rolled out its new Hue lighting system, and much to my surprise, they hit a key mark: LED lighting people will want it. That's big.
Now there is plenty of LED lighting that people need, whether they yet understand that or not. There are a number of high quality PAR-type LED replacement lamps available today, from reputable, quality manufacturers, that work well, produce great quality light, and will last 25,000 to 50,000 hours. In the commercial market, where you have a minimum 8 hour/day usage, there is literally no reasonable excuse not to replace a 50 to 150 watt halogen PAR with one of these units. The energy savings moving from 15 lumens/watt to 60+ lumens/watt, without sacrificing quality of light, makes the case. Period. The only reason we don't have mass adoption is either doubts about whether one's selection is really high enough quality to match the lifetime claim or the lack of a mechanism to "finance" the capital expenditure in order to realize the operational expense savings that delivers the ROI.
In the A-lamp format (classic "Edison" type light bulbs), due to their non-directional nature, and their more frequent presence in the residential space where far few hours per day or month are involved, LED light bulbs don't have a strong case. Good quality CFLs do a pretty decent job of providing a sufficient quality of light, they last a long time, and they are equally efficient to most LED A-lamp solutions. LED replacement lamps do keep getting better, and the cost continues to come down, so we're nearing a time when the do become clearly superior, but not just yet. There is another option, however, and that's what Philips has done here. They added value.
If you read the specs on the Hue, you'd find them not to be all that remarkable in terms of pure efficacy or lifetime. Having seen good looking 100 lm/watt "100 watt" replacement lamps in the labs, the 70 lumens/watt of the Hue is good, but not stunning. Similarly, a 25,000 hour lifetime isn't the best one can find, although that's still 20+ years with 3-4 hours per night average use. And at the current $60 for the "per lamp" price ($200 for 3 lamps and the connectivity) it's far from nailing the "one in every socket" price point that most agree is sub-$10. So what did Philips do that makes this a winner? They made lighting fun. Is that sufficient to make it a market winner as well? If you ask the typical iPad, iPhone, Droid-phone or video game user, I tend to think they'd say, "Heck yes". $200 for something cool and entertaining? People spend that in a typical weekend of just "being out"… so how about 10+ years of amusement for that price?
In a pretty good piece of forethought, Philips has chosen to introduce the Hue exclusively through Apple's retail stores, where people are already shopping for "practical fun" in droves. I was fortunate enough to have a birthday happening the same day as the product introduction, so when I saw the announcement, I mentioned it to my son as a possible gift consideration. Being of good creative genetic stock, the kid dragged Mom out there a day early to see if he could check it out, despite it not yet being on the shelves. I'm still not exactly sure how it worked, but they ended up walking out with the store's one and only set, a day before they were set to go on sale. (Yes, they paid for it, and it was quite a surprise for me the next day, because they hadn't gone out on the day the Hue went on sale, so I knew that wasn't happening as present). They report that no fewer than 3 of the Apple employees spotted them with the Hue set in hand after the purchase, and asked if they could look at it. When the Apple employees are excited about it, you know you've got something cool in hand. So this isn't all a speculative analysis. We own a set, and when we plugged it in, we were impressed.
Pleasant surprise #1, we didn't need a remote control to get light. As I'd mentioned in the last commentary, one worry I personally had for connected lighting was the necessity to provide the housesitter with instructions for how to turn the lights on and off. I've owned too many cars that needed a preflight briefing before someone else could successfully make full and nondestructive use of it, so I know how this works out. When we screwed in one of the Hue lamps, and turned on the table lamp, the bulb lit and smoothly and quickly scaled up to full brightness with something pretty close to a 3000K standard incandescent type CCT. The ramp-up approach was much cooler than the normal, pause-blam that we've seen in many other LED bulbs. I remember being impressed by the first car I owned which dimmed the interior lights once I closed the door. Same feeling here. The only opportunity for improvement I see in that is to shorten the delay to get to that first glimmer of light, as it is just about the amount of time it takes to spin the lamp's switch, and in a 3-way fixture, where click 1 and 4 are effectively "off" for a non-3-way bulb, it takes patience. Click "nope" click "nope" click "nope"…. slow down just a tad, or speed the bulb-on just a tad, and click 2 or 3 will show the result before you register "no light" and click again. (Or pick up power from that extra prong in the socket, so that every click produces a result).
Once all 3 were screwed in and on, we plugged in the communication hub which supports the ZigBee network the lamps use, Wi-Fi to talk to connected devices (iWhatevers or Droid whatevers), and connects to the ethernet to allow remote networking control. Download the App (iPad in our case) and push the equivalent of the Sync button on the hub and we were connected. So then we did the next logical thing, and pushed one of the scene icons to see what happens. Lots happened, as the bulbs adjusted to the individual presets generated from the "scene" and there was now a different light in the room. The bulbs were plenty bright enough to comfortably read by, especially on the "reading" setting, so minimum functionality was met. Yes, a few more lumens would cover 99% of the bases, but this is just Gen 1, so practical "enough" and cool are really the only two ingredients required. I want more of them…
The Apps were also great, in that they didn't need instructions or user manuals. The settings button was quick to be found, and naming the lamps was iEasy. Plink one of the scenes, and the ubiquitous "edit" pencil is clearly visible, so plink on that and you can change anything in a scene very intuitively, by selecting one of the lamps, and moving dragging it to different color spaces, or sliding the dimmer to create any collective color effect desired. Coooool…. During the course of evening 1, we'd modified a few scenes, and created one of our own called "TV Dinner" which provided an ultra-warm, deep-dim orange on each side of the couch, and slightly less warm but deeper-dim over at the living room/dining room border in a hanging fixture to provide some fill across the ceiling. The effect was very much like the eat-in theaters — comfortable to see your food, but not distracting from the screen. And it was easy. And it was cooool…
The idea of the scenes is pretty interesting. When you create a new one, you can start from a photo in your album on the device, and then use that as the color palette to "paint" the scene. Take a photo of the Monet on your wall, then set the lighting in the formal area to coordinate. Bright yellow and whites in the kitchen? Take a photo and start sliding the icons. Or you can work from a blank palette and select color families and then specific colors, which is especially handy in conjunction with the "wake up" setting that can be applied to any of the scenes. Lots of people are wired to wake up in conjunction with a sunrise, which presents a challenge in the darker seasons of the year. To help with that, one of the app features is to set a target light, and time, and then tell the system to fade up to that light over a choice of intervals from a few to a few-more minutes. Sunrise in the bedroom. Philips is also making developer kits available for the Hue App family, so while the morning scheme you concoct may not yet be tuned to specific wavelengths that properly tweak the body's hormonal processes for waking up, the structure fully supports the approach and we'll just be a little research and a few Apps away from this kind of integration of light and healthy living that we've been discussing for a while.
For those on the go, and with time on their hands while gone, you can register the system for online access, so you can control schedules and scenes remotely (now that will mess with the housesitter…). Obviously, if it's not there yet, it's easy to see how it will be able to integrate with other home automation, to make it bright if a motion sensor triggers, or highlight a smoke detection by illuminating the area in flashing red. Overall, the system is easy to use, and fun, with enough practical built in to even be justifiable. At the end of a night, we can just pop open the iPad or Droid-driven phone, and click the "all off" button. Or if we don't feel like finding or opening them, we can just, get this, turn off the light switch as we always have, confident that when we turn it back on, it will light up just like good old Mr. Incandescent did, so we can find our car keys, or reading glasses.
Thank you to Philips for the consumer savvy that is emphasizing the capabilities of LED lighting to an audience that is still a ways from being swayed on the economics alone. LED lighting is now actually cool. Coooool….
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