Philips is getting rid of the need for a specialized and proprietary hub in the latest version of its Hue smart bulbs, indicating that the days of conflicting and confusing smart home products may finally be coming to an end.
Rather than require the bulbs – which can be programmed to turn on and change their brightness and color as needed – communicate through a separate $60 hub, the new kit from Philips' light division, known as Signify, will use standard Bluetooth instead.
That means that the bulbs can be set up, used, and controlled independently by third-party apps, hubs, and services. Given that Hue bulbs are one of the most popular smart-home products on the market, the shift is major in the Internet of Things market.
The Philips Hub, and its associated smartphone app, will continue to work with the new and old bulbs, and Philips will continue to use the Zigbee standard. But the decision is a clear sign that products are finally coalescing around a standard approach.
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The new bulbs will also work with both Google's Home/Nest and Amazon's Alexa digital assistants but, notably, not Apple's HomeKit.
It's been known for a long time that home owners can't be expected to plug in and install a separate hub for every smart home product family they use, yet the plethora of standards has made it difficult for manufacturers to decide which approach to take.
Philips has clearly decided Bluetooth is the best way to go into terms of connection. And, interestingly, it has worked with Amazon to tie its products in a little closer with its Alexa approach: if you buy the lights through Amazon's online shop with the same account as you use for any Echo devices you may have, Philips notes that Alexa will do the setup process automatically.
That is a further pointer that when it comes to the consumer smart home, the market has pretty much decided that it is an eco-system battle between Google, Amazon, and Apple. Everyone else will just have to figure out how to connect with those systems.
The new Bluetooth-enabled Hue bulbs will cost the same as those without Bluetooth: $15 for plain white; $25 adjustable white bulbs; and $50 for full color-change bulbs. ®