Kickstarter successes like SmartThings and Ubi--both of which serve to make our homes more wired--show the huge demand for consumer appliances and decor that are just as smart as our phones. So far, delivery of this futuristic "Internet of things" has come mostly from makers and small scale entrepreneurs who crowdfund their new ideas and prototypes. Big business, on the other hand, has been slower to push Internet-connected home appliances to the marketplace.
But Hue, a wireless LED lighting system from the world’s biggest lighting manufacturer, Philips, shows a step in that direction at the corporate level (albeit on the high end of the market). Released last fall to the adoration of design blogs, Hue provides enough innovations to the way we light up our homes to make you long for the days when a wall-mounted light switch will be a techological relic.
A Hue kit--sold for $199 at the Apple store-- come with four wireless LED bulbs, a wireless hub, and an app that you download for your smartphone or tablet and use to communicate with the bulbs, up to 50 at a time.
The software allows for a heady amount of personalization of your home’s lighting. Using your smartphone, you can dim or extinguish the lights, even while you’re not at home (which could come in handy if you’re on vacation, for example, and would like your house to appear occupied).
But the real fun happens when you start playing with the colors. The LEDs can shine at any color on the spectrum, and, with a click, will absorb the exact color from a photograph on your phone. Or you can rely on Hue’s premixed color "recipes," which are tested to promote relaxation, concentration, energy, or reading.
Philips isn’t the only player in the game, of course. About the same time that Hue was announced, the Kickstarter drive for LIFX, another Wi-Fi-enabled LED, knocked it out of the park by raising $1.3 million, more than 10 times its goal. LIFX ups the ante by promising to "visualise your music with animated colors" and integrating with Facebook and Twitter for notifications.
Lighting provides an easier entree into the "smart home market." We’re already used to fun innovations in this space--for example, clappers that turn lights off and computerized systems. But Philips makes everything from toothbrushes to coffee makers. If Hue is a hit, can we expect exploration into other household gadgets? Will 2013 be the year we see a wider embrace by big technology companies of devices to make our homes smart?