Using Philips Hue With Homekit, IFTTT, SmartThings, and MoreBy - 10/31/2016
I’d be lying if I said I felt good about spending $200 on lightbulbs. Even as a smart home enthusiast, the thought makes me ill. I’ve tried to get away with cheaper smart lights including GE Link and Osram Lightify. But they both have issues. Link requires a lot of troubleshooting as it isn’t directly compatible with SmartThings (my smart home hub). Osram doesn’t provide the type of automation I need and has security vulnerabilities. From what I hear, Philips Hue should be the magic pill that solves my smart lighting woes. All that said, I am now the proud owner of a White and Color Starter Kit 2nd Generation, which includes a hub (Philip’s calls this a bridge) and three bulbs.
Going Hands-on With Philips Hue
Before you can do anything, you’ll need to buy a kit. And while you can connect Hue bulbs directly to a SmartThings hub, it’s not recommended. You have the option of starting with white bulbs or color, but the options can seem overwhelming.
Philips sells three types of lights: white, white ambiance, and white and color. The white lights are regular bulbs, one trick ponies, one shade of white. White ambiance bulbs offer different shades of white that can move from cool to warm tones. The white and color bulbs can display different shades of white and colors. The chart below outlines some of the options sold by Hue with the three primary kits (white, ambiance, color) marked by “buy now” buttons.
|Philips Hue White E26 Starter Kit||White||2 A19 Bulbs, 1 Hue Bridge||$69.99||Buy Now|
|Philips Hue White E26 Bulb||White||1 A19 Bulb||$14.99|
|Philips Hue Wireless Dimming Kit||White||1 A19 Bulb, 1 Hue Dimmer Switch||$34.99|
|Philips Hue Phoenix||White Ambiance||1 Table Lamp|
|Philips Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit A19||White Ambiance||2 A19 Bulb, 1 Bridge, 1 Dimmer Switch||$129.99||Buy Now|
|Philips Hue White Ambiance Extension Bulb||White Ambiance||1 A19 Bulb||$29.99|
|Philips Hue White Ambiance Light Recipe Kit||White Ambiance||1 A19 , 1 Dimmer Switch, 4 Recipes||$49.99|
|Philips Hue White Ambiance BR30 Single Bulb||White Ambiance||1 BR30 Bulb||$29.99|
|Philips Hue White Ambiance BR30 Dual Pack||White Ambiance||2 BR30 Bulb||$49.99|
|Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit||White and Color Ambiance||3 A19 Bulbs, 1 Bridge||$199.99||Buy Now|
|Philips Hue White and Color E27 bulb||White and Color Ambiance||1 A19 Bulb||$59.99|
|Philips Hue White and Color GU10 Spot||White and Color Ambiance||1 GU10 Bulb||$49.99|
|Philips Hue White and Color PAR16||White and Color Ambiance||1 PAR16 Bulb||$49.99|
|Philips Hue Bloom||White and Color Ambiance||1 Lamp||$59.99|
|Philips Hue LightStrip||White and Color Ambiance||1 78.7in” Long Lightstrip||$69.99|
|Philips Hue 9W A19 E26 NAM||White and Color Ambiance||1 A19 Bulb||$49.99|
|Philips Hue LightStrip Plus||White and Color Ambiance||1 78.7in” Long Lightstrip||$89.99|
|Philips Hue Go||White and Color Ambiance||1 Portable Light||$79.99|
|Philips Hue 7W BR30 E26 NAM||White and Color Ambiance||1 BR30 Bulb||$49.99|
No matter what type of bulb you start with, you can always expand later by mixing and matching different types. The Bridge supports up to 50 bulbs and 12 Hue accessories. In addition to the accessories mentioned in the chart above, they sell a motion sensor and a tap switch. With the motion sensor, you can set your lights to turn on or off based on presence automatically. The tap switch lets you recall four of your favorite scenes by pressing a button.
To me, setup was a snap. It consisted of screwing in the bulbs, turning on my lights, plugging in the bridge, and downloading the app. Once installed, I decided to test the lights using seven different integrations:
- Hue App
- Amazon Alexa
- A Third-Party App
|Turn Lights Off/On||Control Colors/Dimming||Control Individual Bulbs/Rooms||Control Scenes|
|Works with Nest|
Initially, I didn’t find Philip’s app as intuitive as OSRAM’s, which was disappointing. I expected the experience to be clean and polished, but it was disorganized.
Hue has both a smartphone app and a web portal. The web portal is limited. Through it, you can turn bulbs on or off, change their names, change your password, get info on your bridge, unlink your bridge, and check out connected apps.
Thankfully, the smartphone app is more robust. You can use it to manage rooms (groups of lights) or individual lights. You can also use the app to connect accessories, create widgets, manage routines, and more.
Expect to take a day or two to familiarize yourself with the app. Using it, you can create rules and automation for your Hue lights even without integrating with other devices.
- Flexible Control Over Lights
- Control Lights from Anywhere
- Not Intuitive
Working With HomeKit
Using Philips Hue with the Hue app and Homekit go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, getting Homekit to work wasn’t as smooth as I had hoped and the Home app isn’t revolutionary. Instead, it mimics other smart home apps and learning to use it requires time and patience.
Enabling Homekit is the first step you need to take. But even once you’ve enabled Homekit you may not be ready to control all bulbs. From the settings menu of the Hue app, go to Siri Voice Control. From there, go to the lights menu and make sure all bulbs you want to control are checked. Second, re-visit the Siri Voice Control menu and select scenes. Any scene you want to control using Homekit must be checked. Every time you create a new scene, plan to revisit this menu.
Even after getting things setup, don’t expect perfection. I found major issues with using Siri for voice control. The first being that she doesn’t provide feedback. If something fails, Siri will give you a simple, “sorry” or “Sorry, You, I didn’t hear back”. Sometimes, sorry doesn’t cut it; I would love for Siri to provide more feedback.
Scene control was the most disappointing part of using Siri for voice control. Two-word scenes rarely work, and Siri reminds me time and time again by saying, “Sorry, I don’t understand the word X.” Furthermore, you can’t use the same scene name for multiple rooms. So if you have Hue bulbs installed throughout your home, you will need to remember a lot of command phrases, even if you want those phrases to produce the same outcome.
Using the Home app to control Hue lights is a frustrating experience due to a confusing user interface. Furthermore, it isn’t a consistent experience. Using Siri to turn my lights on and off works most of the time, using it to set a specific color works well half of the time, but using it to set a scene rarely works. The benefit of using the app is that you can control multiple devices using one scene. For example, your good morning scene can turn your lights to energize and adjust ecobee’s temperature.
- Hands-Free Voice Control
- Can Control Multiple Devices With Scenes
- iPhone Users Only
- Difficult to Remember Voice Commands
- Requires Apple TV (4th Generation) for Remote Control
- Struggles With Two Word Scenes
Using Hue with IFTTT
As I shared during my OSRAM journey, I want smart lights that can turn different colors when I get Tweets, Emails, or Phone calls. Where OSRAM failed me, I was hoping Hue would save me.
Unlike OSRAM, Hue has its own IFTTT channel. Setting up the channel is incredibly easy. Simply activate the Hue channel using the free app or web login and create a rule. Unfortunately, I should have done my research before purchasing a Hue kit. While I can do a lot through IFTTT; I can’t achieve all of my goals. Using the Android Phone IFTTT channel, you can do a lot: blink your lights if you miss a call from your boss, turn the lights on if you get a call from a specific person, but the same can’t be done for iPhone users. Though I wasn’t able to set up phone call or email related rules, I was able to create a rule using Twitter as a trigger. Now, when someone @mentions me, my bulb “color loops”.
As a channel, Hue has no IFTTT triggers and ten actions. You can have your lights swap to a specified scene, turn on, turn off, toggle on/off, blink, dim, change color, change to a random color, change to a color from an image you specify, or turn on a slow color loop.
In general, integrating Hue with other IFTTT channels works well. It’s easy to setup, and it’s user-friendly. IFTTT recommends pairing Hue with the following channels: Amazon Alexa, Weather, Data & Time, ESPN, iOS Location, and Nest Protect, but there are lots of other possibilities.
- Connect to Hundreds of Other Devices and Services
- Great User Interface and Setup Experience
- Delays Through IFTTT are Common
- If This Then That Rules Are Limiting
Using Hue with Amazon Alexa
Hue and Echo work together using a skill which is quickly enabled through the Alexa app. When enabled, you can use your voice to control your lights similarly to Siri. You can ask Alexa to turn your lights on/off, adjust brightness, or even control scenes.
You can ask Alexa to set a scene by mentioning both the scene and room name. If you prefer, you can create groups using an Alexa group, like Bedroom or Downstairs. By using an Alexa group, you can control multiple device types with one command. For example, I was able to group my GE Link bulbs (via SmartThings), WeMo Insight Switch, and my Hue lights into one category. Now I can say, “Alexa, turn on test lights”, and they all turn on.
Setting everything up seemed easy, but perception is deceitful. I first tried to use Alexa to control a light in my office. After asking her to turn the light on, she informed me that there were several devices named “Office”. When checking the app, I realized that Echo had imported all of my scenes as devices. I had over 50 Hue devices listed within the app! To troubleshoot, I first manually deleted all of the scenes, leaving only the bulbs. This worked better but came with its own set of problems. I would ask Alexa to set a scene, and she would reply, “Okay”, but nothing would happen. I tried again by asking Alexa to rediscover all devices. This time I found two similar entries for Office by sorting the devices by name. I had a device called Office (Room Living room connected via Hue) and Office (Extended color light connected via Hue). I deleted the first one. This approach was the right solution, but it was only a temporary fix. The second office kept coming back, and I was forced to delete it multiple times during testing. That said, every time you add a new scene, be prepared to ask Alexa to rediscover all devices. And when you do, be prepared to re-implement this fix.
There’s a reason why the Hue Alexa skill is rated 2.5 stars. It’s buggy, but it kind of works. To get it to work correctly be prepared to do some troubleshooting or create groups to control multiple bulbs with one voice command. Also, I found that Alexa can’t implement all of the commands possible through Siri. For example, Siri can relay device status (e.g. Is the light on in my office?), Alexa can’t.
- Can Group Multiple Devices Into an Alexa Group
- Hands-Free Control
- Requires That You Run a Discover Every Time You Add a New Scene
- Voice Commands Hard to Remember
Using Hue with SmartThings
Next, I tested Hue with SmartThings. To connect Hue with SmartThings, tap Marketplace from the SmartThings app, then lights & switches, light bulbs, Philips, your bulb, connect now. The wizard will guide you through the rest of the process.
SmartThings works similarly to IFTTT in that you can create a cause and effect relationship through Smart Lighting. For example, when someone opens my front door I can have the lights turn red. The limitation is that you can’t pick any color when using Smart Lighting. With IFTTT, you can choose a color by name or by CSS hex code. With SmartThings, you’re stuck with the basics: red, green, blue, warm white, etc. However, lights can also be controlled individually or by room through the SmartThings’ app. When controlling the lights directly, there is no restriction on color.
The SmartThings app has never been my favorite, but in some ways, I found the experience more pleasant than both Hue and Home. If you are already into SmartThings and live out of the app, the integration can be handy. That said, it comes with limitations. You can create rules, but only for specific colors, and you can’t control scenes. I wouldn’t recommend someone run out and buy a SmartThings hub to connect with their Hue kit, but if you are already a SmartThings user, this is a fun integration that appears to work well.
- Create Cause and Effect Rules with SmartThings Devices
- Consolidates Apps
- Requires Two Hubs For Optimal Performance
- Can’t Control Scenes (Without Workarounds)
- Rules Are Restricted to Basic Colors
Works with Nest
Hue lights also Work with Nest. You can integrate your lights with your cameras, thermostat, or Nest Protect. What you can do will depend on what device(s) you integrate with. I only have cameras. According to Nest,
Philips hue can interact with all your Nest® products, from using your Nest Cam to turn off the lights when you’ve left the room to switching your lights to the best setting to see through smoke if there is an emergency. We can even use your Nest Cam together with Philips hue as a smarter security light or protect your home by simulating your presence when you are away.
The setup process was the easiest of all options tested. Simply visit this website, connect, and go. From the website, you can choose from the following four options:
- Leave home worry-free. (changes all lights)
- Left the room, lights off. (can select which camera, which light, and a holdtime before lights go out)
- A smarter security light. (can select which camera, which light, and also enable only if you’ve been away for more than 24 hours)
- Protect light. (requires Nest Protect)
With Leave Home Worry-Free, Nest will notice when you’re away (using geofencing) and automatically fade your lights to off. While you’re gone, it can even switch your lights on and off to make it seem like you’re home.
With Left the Room, Lights Off, Nest Cam will monitor for motion within its field of view. If it doesn’t detect motion or noise, it will fade your lights to off.
The Smarter Security Light setting monitors for motion in the dark. If it’s dark outside and your camera senses movement, it will turn on lights after a short delay. Then, Nest will turn your lights back off after 15 minutes.
Finally, with Protect Light, if Nest Protect finds a hazard it will give you a heads up by flashing your lights yellow. If the event is an alarm event, the lights will flash red before moving to a dimmed red to help you navigate through smoke.
Of all the possible integrations, I was most excited by the options presented by Nest. Unfortunately, they were a bit of a letdown. I started by testing “Smarter Security”. It didn’t work. My lights changed when it was very clearly daytime. What’s worse is that my light was already on, so it didn’t really “turn it on”, it just changed the color. So Nest’s claim that it will turn on lights when it’s dark outside, and there’s motion isn’t exactly true. More like, we’ll turn the light on or change the color of your light every time a tree branch sways outside no matter what time of the day it is. And you’re welcome.
Second, I tested Leave Home Worry-Free. This didn’t work at all. I tested it with and without Nest’s Home/Away assist feature, but no luck.
- Integrates With All Nest Products
- Simple Setup Process
- Integration Limited to 4 Set Rules
Using Hue With Third-Party Apps
According to Hue, the white and color bulbs have three additional benefits over white lights.
- Paint with Light
- Sync with Music
- Sync with Movies
But you won’t find these options readily available within the Hue app. Paint with light is a marketing term. It simply means that you can change the bulb different colors. But what about syncing with music and movies? To use these features, you need third-party apps.
Within the Hue app, there is a section called “apps we like”. One major bummer is that many of the apps cost money. For example, Hue Disco, rated just 2 stars on iTunes, sells for $3.99, while Ambify, rated 2.5 stars, sells for $2.99. Both should integrate your lights with music. Reluctantly, I purchased Ambify as it apparently automatically syncs to music versus listening for an external sound source.
The app, like so many others, doesn’t work well. It’s glitchy and frustrating, but I did get it to work. You can use the app to adjust sensitivity, control one light, or multiple lights. You can even change between cycle (smoother) or flash (more like a strobe light). And you can create color themes. For example, I was able to create a Christmas theme where the lights flashed green and red.
How many applications do you want to have access to your lights? Who do you trust? Downloading more apps and allowing third-party companies I don’t know to access my internet connected bulbs isn’t comforting.
- Allows For Greater Creativity
- Can Sync Lights to Music, Movies, etc
- Yet Another App
- Most Apps Cost Money
- Not Officially Supported By Hue
Final Thoughts and Other Options
Though the above options are the only options I tested, Hue can do more. Hue bulbs are also compatible with Google Home, Bosch, and Logitech Harmony.
To me, having so many integration options isn’t liberating, it’s confusing. The whole experience feels cluttered or like a net cast too wide. Perhaps Hue should zone in on fixing their own app, which has a 1.5-star rating on iTunes and 2.5 stars on Google Play. With some tweaking, it could be so much better.
There are also so many things the bulbs can’t do. For example, I assumed I would be able to flash the lights different colors, rotate red and green on Christmas or pink and red on Valentine’s Day. I also assumed I would be able to adjust the light to a certain color to help me stay on top of emails and text messages. Why can’t Hue make this happen? I’m hopeful they will.
Did I catch Hue fever? Not really. I’m way less obsessed with colored lights than I thought I would be. Many of the colors appear “washed out”, even though I have the new bulbs with “richer, deeper” colors. In short, Hue has a lot of potential, but they’ve also failed to deliver a consistent and simple user experience.