Connected lightbulbs may be cool, but they’re not cool for very long.
This is something I quickly came to realize after spending a few weeks with three Philips Hue lightbulbs, which the people at Philips were kind enough to send me to test last month.
Introduced last year, the Hue is a WiFi-connected smart lightbulb that can be controlled via your smartphone or tablet.
Like the Nest thermostat and Protect smoke alarm, the Hue is instantly enticing because it takes something as dull and domestic as the lightbulb and adds a new layer of intelligence to it. Suddenly something that used to only light your home now lets you light your home in multiple colors, remotely, and with considerable smarts.
The device is pure geek candy, to put it simply.
But after a few weeks of owning the bulbs, I’m not quite sure whether I’d buy them myself. While changing the bulb’s colors from your smartphone makes for a neat party trick, it’s not long after you install the Hue that the “smart” part of the bulb fades into the background, leaving you with a very expensive household novelty.
That is, unless you take things a step further.
Though the Hue feels pretty limited initially, Philips does offer some basic features to expand what the bulb can do. Via geofencing, for instance, you can program the Hue to automatically turn on when your and your phone are the proximity of your home Wi-Fi network. Other basic functionality includes the ability to create a timer for the bulb, which can be programmed to wake you up at whatever time you specify.
But Philips has also tried to take that functionality a bit further.
Back in March, the company introduced developer program for the Hue, which was aimed at letting the more enterprising Hue owners do more with the lightbulbs than even Philips intended.
One app, Hue Disco, lets you program the Hue to pulse in certain intervals, or even in sync with certain music. You can also program the bulbs via IFTTT, allowing them to change color when you get a new email, or even when it rains.
The problem, though, is that adding those supplementary layers of functionality takes some work, which means that, for most people, they might as well not exist.
Considering that most current Hue owners are geeky early adopters, that might not be the biggest problem right now. But if Philips ever wants to make the Hue an attractive option for the average person, it has to do a better job of making it easier for people to do more with the Hue with minimal effort.
And the same thing for other makers of connected devices as well. You know who you are.