The wireless LED parade just keeps on marching. Another company offering app-controlled LED bulbs is just about ready to release their products. The company, LIFX, started out as a Kickstarter campaign, says Australia’s Computerworld, with a goal of $100,000. They ended up raising more than $1,300,000.
Now with all that cash rolling around, they’re living up to their promise and say the first bulbs will ship out the third quarter of 2013.
There are already several wirelessly-controlled LED lights on the market. Philips came out with one of the first, the Hue system that allows users to control not only the brightness, but also the color of the bulbs. TCP also launched a similar system, but without the color option. Both of those, along with the Insteon LED light, require a gateway or hub to connect your smartphone to the bulb. The gateway then communicates wirelessly via a different protocol (Philips uses Zigbee while TCP uses 6LoPAN). The LIFX bulbs are different in that your smartphone connects directly to each bulb, no gateway needed. The LIFX bulbs communicate to each other via a mesh network on 802.15.4. (Read a review of the TCP system here)
What that means is that each bulb includes its own Wi-Fi radio. That allows for some interesting applications. For instance, the blubs can be programmed to blink when your phone receives a text message or they can flash in various colors in sync with your music—that’s right, just as with the Philips Hue bulbs, you can also adjust the color of the light from the LIFX bulbs.
LIFX also seems to have solved another problem with the other wireless LED lights—your light switch still works. With the Philips, TCP and Insteon products, you need to keep your lamp or light switch on at all times. All control must come from the app, so if you don’t have your phone with you, you can’t turn off the lights. According to a video on the LIFX site, your old switches will still work. I’m not sure how that’s possible if the power to the bulb (and the built-in Wi-Fi radio) is shut off unless the Wi-Fi is able to live on a small trickle of power.
So far this newcomer sounds pretty promising, but they’re quite a bit more expensive than anything else like it. A single standard screw-in bulb from LIFX costs $79. With the Philips Hue system you get three bulbs plus the gateway for $200. The TCP system also costs $200, but comes with four bulbs.
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.
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