/ Home & Energy, Technology

Controlling light bulbs with your phone – genius or gimmick?

Philips Hue lighting app

Remember clap on, clap off lights? Well, Philips has just upped the ante. On Monday it launched the Hue; a lighting system that you can control via your smartphone. Will it brighten up your day?

Is Phillips’ Hue system just a gimmick? Who actually wants to use their phone to switch the lights on?

Well, from the perspective of a gadget lover, the Hue certainly has the wow factor. Hue LED light bulbs can change to any colour of the rainbow and also dim up and down. You can use pre-set colour moods designed for relaxing, energising and concentrating, or adjust the brightness of individual bulbs.

All of this means that there’s the potential to create multi-coloured party lighting or soothing light to read by, all with the same light bulbs and an app on your smartphone or tablet.

Is Philips Hue a lighting revolution?

I’m going to be trying out the Philips Hue at home, but at this stage it just seems like a toy. I can’t see it revolutionising the way I light my home. Perhaps I’m wrong and in twenty years time we will all want to be able to dim the lights for a movie from the comfort of the sofa, rather than getting up to fiddle with the dimmer switch.

There are also some extra (slightly pointless) bells and whistles. You can take a photo of your favourite scene, say a beach or mountain range, and get Hue to match the colour of the lighting. You can check out Hue in this video from Philips:

There may be some occasions when Hue can be used for more than just impressing your friends. It will let you use your phone to set security lighting while you’re on holiday, or set a alarm clock to gently wake you up in the morning.

The price isn’t right

That might all sound great, but this kind of gadgetry doesn’t come cheap. A starter pack costs £179 for a bridge that connects the system to your wireless router and just three LED bulbs. Each additional bulb is a whopping £49.

So, I’m still to be convinced by the virtues of this technology. To me it just seems like one more thing to complicate life and another home appliance that could potentially go wrong. But perhaps you’ll be keen on Hue. Do you think Philips’ new smartphone-controlled lighting system is a rich man’s toy or a potentially revolutionary product?


I’m not an expert with LED bulbs, but are they the type that last forever? If so, it could be worth the investment.

I do like the idea of controlling them via my phone, if only so I don’t have to get out of bed, or the blanket on the sofa during the winter months. I’m also one of those nerds who’d like changing the colour of it based on cool colours I find in pictures.

LEDs can last a long time – as always, depends on their quality, you get what you pay for. Typical life quoted is 50 000 hours (lit) for good ones, but their light output may have dropped by 30% by then. If you had one on 5 hours a night every day, that would be 27 years – pretty well for ever. There is a “but” – they need an electronic controller to operate them, and this will have a shorter life, depending on it’s quality. And if it is an integral part of your LED light, then that will decide when it all goes black. But good ones are good, and getting better.


Don’t assume that electronic devices have a short life. Consumer goods often have a short life because well known manufacturers often use components that are inadequate for the job. Spend a little more and electronics can last for decades.

I would not mind playing with the Philips’ Hue System though I will wait until a friend has installed it. I’m not sure controlling lighting with a mobile phone would suit me because I would have to find it first. At least the landline phone does not get left in the jacket or trousers I was wearing yesterday or the day before.

wavechange – of course you’re right about electronics, but as I said you get what you pay for. Go to the sheds for home diy LEDs and you’ll likely get relatively short life electronics – lower standard components to minimise cost. Use “professional” controllers, and you’ll probably get 15 years depending on the environment. I was interested to watch the Voyager 1+2 programme where their electronics still function after 37 years – bet they weren’t cheap.

It is a common misconception that good quality electronics is expensive, and I can say that from experience of construction and repair, as a hobbyist. Replacing under-rated components that run hot can result in a dramatic improvement in reliability. Hi-Fi separates are the only examples of high quality electronics that are commonly found in homes. Mine date from the early/mid 80s and still work fine, but that is not uncommon. I’ve also got working home-made electronics that I made when I was a student, and it’s 40 years since I graduated.

I became bored watching all the promotional videos for Philips but I see they are offering a 5 year guarantee. All manufacturers should be doing this.

As usual a report that says nothing, whats the light output like? Whats the point in investing in this system if it turns out to be no better than christmas tree lights!

Hello Phil, this isn’t a report, only a Conversation to start a debate about whether you’d buy such a system. We have yet to properly test the bulbs, so this is just a sneak peak. Thanks.

I had a similar device years ago – I used it for about three months – then the novelty wore off – Still have it in the attic I think.

I notice that this device is controlled by your ‘phone rather than your computer, which is how previous attempts at this kind of thing were operated. Does this mean that they expect us to pay to work our lights?

I guess the cost of a dozen calls a week is nothing when you add in the cost of the entire system.

As for the longevity of the system, the only way to find out is to wait whilst someone actually uses it, but I have a wartime coms receiver which still works with the original valves, likewise my “Dancette style” Fidelity autochanger, then there’s my V2000 video recorder, Laserdisc player, first CD player, Minidisc recorder, BBC ‘B’ computer, and my 21 year old RiscPC is still in regular use.

I’ve had my fair share of tech that has let me down, but most of it simply lasts if you don’t abuse it.

Peter says:
9 May 2014

Yes, it is controlled by a phone, but it has to be a smartphone connected to your home network. You are not making a phone call.