Apple Stores are to sell a wirelessly controlled LED lighting system that can change colour and is controlled via an iPhone or iPad app.
The Hue bulbs are made by Philips, which will be providing the product exclusively to Apple Stores (from 30 October) for the time being, although an Android version of the app is coming in December, according to the manufacturer.
Philips has made colour changing LED mood lighting bulbs for several years but they simply cycled through a preset sequence. The new Philips Hue system uses a wireless bridge, which plugs into your Wi-Fi router and comes in a starter pack along with three bulbs. These are controlled using the free companion app. The Hue bulbs use E26 or E27 screw-cap fittings (but not bayonet types as yet) and the whole system does not need specialist installation.
The web-controlled lights are a chance for people to taste the kind of features normally provided with elaborate home automation hardware.
Lights can be turned on or off or have their brightness and colour intensity changed using the app – including white light from the warm to cool end of the colour temperature range.
Each bulb can be named according to the room it’s in and customised with “Light Recipes” from a total of 16 million possible colour choices. The app can also use a digital photo on your device to pick a colour and make the Hue bulbs match it, which works a bit like Philips’ AmbiLight system for TVs.
The app has 12 preset options, including “sunset”, “deep sea”, “beach” and “hammock”. You can assign automated on and off times for the lights and group or ungroup them into clusters to be controlled all in one go.
An online portal enables you to control them from outside the building, which is handy if you are away and wonder if you forgot to switch off the lights (or you want to leave some on to make it look like someone’s home). It can even do “reverse signalling”, so you can get a status report on whether lights have or have not been used by a certain time.
At home, the router and your mobile must be on the same Wi-Fi network, however, the bulbs communicate using ZigBee, which consumes less power than Wi-Fi. As ZigBee is an open standard, Philips hopes that a developer community will build new applications for Hue in the future.
One bridge can support 50 bulbs, says Philips. The lights also work with existing ZigBee LightLink wireless automation systems.
Being LED bulbs they have a long 15,000-hour lifespan and a low power consumption of no more than 8.5W each, producing a maximum of 600 lumens (equivalent to a 50W incandescent light).
However, the starter kit is expensive, even by luxury LED standards, at £179 in the UK and $199 in the US. Additional bulbs cost £49 ($59) each. So, it’s clearly a premium offering at the moment, rather like the Nest thermostat (also sold through Apple stores but only in the US so far).