Forbes Names Phililps Hue Lighting Product of The Year 2012
Creating a nearly perfect product—especially one involving electricity—is no easy feat. The software has to be airtight and intuitive. The hardware needs to be durable and attractive. And it all has to work together with rare harmony.
So while 2012 saw a number of very good products, there were very few that I’d call almost perfect. You know: Life-changers. Ones that work so well, and offer so much, that it’s hard to imagine daily life without them. In fact, when set about thinking of the best of the hundreds of gadgets, gizmos, tools, and toys I’ve played with over the past year, I keep coming back to one in particular: The Philips Hue LED lighting system.
The basics: As you probably know, Congress passed a law that basically compels the lighting industry is phasing out the warm and incredibly inefficient light provided by incandescent bulbs, which are nice for a warm glow, but not so nice for the Earth or your energy bill. Waiting in the wings to take their place are two technologies: CFL bulbs, which have been widely available for a number of years now; and LED bulbs, which are still fairly pricey and have only become available to consumers very recently.
The Philips Hue system uses LED bulbs—with a twist. You see, Hue bulbs aren’t just controlled with your old-school light or lamp switch—they are controlled with an iOS app. And by “controlled” I mean controlled. Gone are the binary days where your only options are “on” or “off”. The Hue system lets you switch between a seemingly infinite number of color and brightness settings. It also gives you “scenes” that map your home’s lighting around a mood or setting (“Relax” or “Beach”, for example). This magic is made possible because, in addition to being very efficient, LED lights also happen to be digital, meaning it’s easy to program them, control them, or change their settings.
So what exactly makes the Hue the single best product of the year? Let’s put it all into context. Folks love to complain about the problems of energy efficient bulbs—the lighting is ugly, the product is ugly, they make everybody look ugly. The Hue doesn’t just neutralize these issues (it’s quite easy to find a color on the spectrum that matches your old incandescent’s yellow glow)—it also gives you so many bonus perks that it’s not an exaggeration to call it a paradigm-shifting jump in the way we light our homes.
In other words: Switching from old-style incandescents to the Hue LED system is like jumping from a horse and buggy to a Tesla Roadster. The Hue doesn’t just update your lighting system for an energy efficient era—it bolts your home lighting from an Edison-era antiquity, to a Jetsons-esque curiosity.
But it gets better. Because of science! You see, researchers now know that blue-tinted light suppresses production of melatonin—a hormone that makes it easier for us to go to sleep at night—while red light does not. That means that blasting your bedroom with blue lights (or your gadgets’ LCD screens) could mess with your ability to get to sleep, while a soft red hue will not. I’ve started to use the Hue to take advantage of this knowledge—before I go to bed, I switch the lighting over to a reddish color that is less likely to interfere with my sleep. Were I to pull an all-nighter, I could also switch Hue to blue to stay alert. Once businesses get wind of how easy this is, I imagine some will be racing to install a blue-tuned Hue in order to keep workers awake—particularly night-shift workers. Yes, the Hue can actually help you stay awake when you want to, and go to sleep when you need to.
Of course, while I am a huge fan, the Hue is not without its hitches. Most obvious: The system is on the expensive side. A starter kit that comes with a Wi-Fi bridge (necessary to give you remote control over your lights) and three bulbs will run you $200, with additional bulbs costing $60 each. The bulbs must also all be within range of the same Wi-Fi network (or of another connected bulb) in order to operate. This could be a problem for larger homes with weak Wi-Fi signals, or for folks who were hoping to hook up a far-off fixture in a shed or pool house.
Still, if you’ve got the cash, Hue impresses.