Setting Up My New Phillips Hue Lights

The Phillips Hue lights are a very polished piece of gadgetry. They work reliably, are easy to configure, and fun to use. They don’t come cheap, but if you want a rock-solid product, you can’t go wrong here.

Awhile back, I was sitting at my desk in my room, thinking about how cool it would be if I could turn my lamp on and off by talking to it. So I decided I was going to get a smart outlet that would connect to Apple HomeKit. Long story short, this escalated[1] until I finally decided I would buy a set of Hue light bulbs to replace all the light bulbs in my room[2].

What I Bought:

I purchased two items on Amazon: The Phillips Hue White Smart Bulb Starter Kit and the Hue Dimmer Switch Smart Remote. These four bulbs would cover the ceiling light fixture and the desk lamp in my bedroom. This cost me a little over $100.

Image Credit: Amazon

Hardware Setup:

These instructions were printed clearly on the inside of the box, and they couldn’t have been easier:

Install all the lightbulbs, turn them all on, plug the Bridge into your router, and download the app.

I walked through the app setup process, which involved downloading a software update for the Bridge, and then I was all set.

The dimmer switch was even easier to set up. I simply stuck the little plate to my wall with the included stickers. No screws, no mess, no fuss. Even better, the dimmer comes out (it attaches magnetically) and acts as a wireless remote.

Software Setup: Hue App

In the Hue app, I have all four bulbs grouped together as one room, which I tied to the dimmer switch. Then I created a “scene” called “Ceiling on,” which I mapped to the “On” button on the switch. So when I press the on button, only my ceiling lights turn on. But when I press the off button, all my lights turn off, including the lamp. No more forgetting to turn that thing off!

Software Setup: Apple Home App

In Apple’s Home app, I also have all four bulbs assigned to the same room. I’ve got three of them grouped together as my “Lights,” and the other one by itself as my “Desk Lamp.” Nice and simple.

Software Setup: Siri

I can control the lights using Siri by simply saying, “Hey Siri, turn my Desk Lamp on.” But the Home app goes even deeper than that with its “scenes” feature. A “scene” is a group of settings for any number of HomeKit devices, which can be configured all at once with a single tap, or by using Siri. So I can say “Hey Siri, goodnight” and all my lights go off.

My personal favorite turns my lamp on to 5% brightness and is called “You up.” So if I need a nightlight, I simply say, “Hey Siri, you up?” Straight magic.

Bugs

Not too much to complain about here, except for a minor signal strength issue. We have two routers in my house, and I originally plugged the Hue Bridge into the one in my basement. In hindsight, this was silly, since that’s the router that barely reaches my room. The Hue Bridge had similar performance issues: it worked most of the time, but occasionally a bulb wouldn’t respond. Moving the Bridge to the other router in the garage — the one that does reach my room — seems to have solved this problem.

Conclusion

I’m extremely happy with my Hue lights. They work well, were easy to set up, and are very customizable. My eye for expansion is now turned to my garage. For my dad’s birthday, we’re going to get him a few more bulbs and a Hue motion sensor, so that the lights in the garage turn on automatically when you walk in. Heck yeah!

[1] Whoops. Never leave a nerd alone scheming about gadgets. Last summer I went on a 20 minute walk without my headphones to distract me, and by the time I got home I had convinced myself I needed to buy an iPad Pro.

[2] Except for my nightstand lamp, which I don’t want or need to be automatic.

December App Review: IFTTT

App: IFTTT (If This Then That)
Price: Free
Developer: IFTTT
Platforms: iOS, Android

This one is honestly less about the app and more about the service, but it’s a really cool service so I decided that it was worth writing a review for.  If This Then That is a service that connects all your other web services – like Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, and so on.  You create simple statements that connect actions from one account to actions in another, things like “IF someone tags me in a photo on Facebook THEN save that photo to my Dropbox.”  Neat right?  Here I’m going to briefly cover the app, and then talk about three of my favorite recipes (what IFTTT calls each trigger-action combo).

 

The app is really simple and straightforward.  Opening the app shows some suggested recipes at the top, and below is a history of all your recipes and when they fired.  It’s really cool if you’re curious what IFTTT has been doing for you lately.  Tapping the mortar and pestle in the top corner opens up your recipes.  Here you can turn them on or off, see their individual histories, or create new ones.  Of course, you can do all this from IFTTT.com, but the app is an easy way to keep up with recipes on the go.  It also unlocks other channels, like iOS Photos and Reminders or Android Location and SMS.

Now I want to talk about three recipes I either currently use or have used in the past.  The first (in the order of the screenshot above) is for RSS subscriptions.  I have a recipe that takes an RSS feed and puts every article in my Pocket account so I can read them later.  Lately, I’ve been using Apple News for most of my reading, but iMore’s Pixel Project comic is good enough that I want to make sure I see all of them.

Second is a way to save pictures I’ve like on Instagram.  I’ve played around with different ways to do this, everything from having them emailed to me to saving them automatically to my phone.  I don’t keep most of the pictures this saves, but if a friend of mine posts a group shot of all of us there’s no way I’m going to let that pass me by.

The last one is a great way to link Twitter and Instagram.  When posting to Instagram, you can also publish your post to Twitter, but it doesn’t show up an a Twitter image, just an Instagram link (unless, of course, you’re using Tweetbot.  And you should be).  This recipe takes your Instagram post and puts it on Twitter as a regular image tweet.  This is nice first because the image looks a lot nicer, and because you don’t have to tap to publish to Twitter every single time.  It’s all automatic.

I’ve covered three recipes here, but I’ve only scratched the surface of what IFTTT can do.  IFTTT supports 245 channels, from every social media you can think of, to smart home devices, to fitness and wearables.  It’s a great service, and I totally recommend you check it out.  Oh yeah, and download the app too.  ••

The Hands-Free House

A while back our garage door opener broke.  After buying a new one, we discovered that it had a nice little feature: A motion sensor that turns the light on automatically when you walk into the garage.  After we got past our Beverly Hillbillies “someone left the light a-burning in there!” realization, we discovered that it’s actually a really helpful feature.  So helpful, in fact, that there are other rooms in the house that I walk into now only to be reminded that, “Oh yeah, I have to flip the light switch.”  So I got to wondering, what if I made a smart home, where everything in my house was automated?  What if I put every electric device in my house on a network and programmed them all to obey my every command, without my even having to command them?  Here are some imaginative scenarios from inside the Hands-Free House.

I wake up to my alarm going off.  But that’s not all I wake up to.  My lights slowly dim on, and different music plays depending on the day of the week (one less thing to think about first thing in the morning).  I sit up and say “Good morning” to a TV, which immediately turns on.  It starts scrolling the Apple TV Today View I’ve talked about before, showing me my email and twitter, as well as a weather forecast and a news ticker.  I roll out of bed, and as I walk to the kitchen, all required lights turn on, then off as I walk in and out of each room.

As I walk out the front door, the house checks to see if anyone else is home.  No?  The air conditioning lets the heat rise a bit, in order to keep those energy bills down.  The door, after confirming that I have my keys in my pocket, locks itself.  After I’ve finished my errands, my car lets the house know that I’m almost home, and the AC cools the house back down again.

After dinner it’s time for a little TV.  As I sit down on the couch, a small camera in the TV determines that it’s me sitting there (as opposed to another member of the family).  The TV quickly loads the shows that I like to watch, eliminating all hassle in the way of successful vegetation.  ••