Is it the Switch or the Bulb? I’ve been looking at the Smart Home again (Note I already own Philips Hue) and looking at WeMo Switches from Belkin and the yet to be launched Ube Dimmer with more advanced specs (see links below).
While home automation appears cool going beyond one or two switches, a door lock, a thermostat, solar blinds is going to be hard. The products must bring something more and infect your home over time. There’s no switch-out or change-out moment for the masses. It is just too costly. You won’t automate your home in a day and you should also ask… Is home automation something you take with you when you move, or build in and leave behind? What it costs affects this decision.
I’m a big fan of Phillips Hue (yes I recommend them to everyone – they can change how you think about his space) which takes “lighting your home” in a new direction – infinite color, while also providing the “smarts” that allow you to program your lights in new ways.
So, this is an early call on the future for Wall Switches. Simply, WeMo and Ube have it wrong. Here are some comparison thoughts from a shoppers perspective. I’ve not purchased a WeMo or had access to a Ube switch. There are also other options out there.
The Switch or the Bulb?
1. Cost: You can buy a Belkin WeMo wall switch, and replace an on – off switch you already have. Cost $45. The cost comparison is against one Philips Hue bulb (you have to buy three to start at $199 +tax). If the Belkin switch only controls one bulb it is almost a wash. At two bulbs then Hue is more than twice the price. Hue bulbs are currently $50 each. Note however, Belkin uses your current bulb and unless it is LED you are going to use more electricity than the Hue replacement.
2. Switch: If you just use the Switch you don’t get the magic of Hue. Then WeMo is all about using your phone as your remote too. Powercuts can confuse Hue, although a quick on-off does the reset.
3. Installation. Belkin’s WeMo switch requires you do so some electrical work to replace the switch so allow at least 15 minutes for a safe install. Philips Hue – different problem. Connect a base station to a router (not everyone can do this either although simple) and the ability to change a standard light bulb. Definitely simple. So adding bulbs is a lot easier than adding switches.
4. Moving: If you move you can take your Philips system with you. Just unscrew the bulbs. With Belkin do you really want to replace all those switches. Did you keep the old ones?
5. Outdoor Light. The Belkin WeMo switch seems like a good idea for an outdoor / front door light control They claim it works with time of day inputs. And like Hue can work with ITFFF type programs. If you want to turn your light off from your phone etc and don’t want Hue then perhaps this is a way to get a good timer on your front door.
6. Dimmer: I don’t see a dimmer in the Belkin specs. All Hue bulbs come with a built in dimmer. Ube has a dimmer function and can also communicate across switches. Belkin WeMo switch won’t work in a three-way situation which has no impact on Hue.
7. Scene: Ube talks scene although their scene is really just which bulbs go on when. By contrast Hue bulbs can take on almost any color changing a room in an instant. Different bulbs may be in different scenes. I can’t make a comparison of the various apps. However, I suspect that playing with color and mood make Hue both more playful and interesting from time to time. The others are more set and forget. I’d note that if you dining room lamp contains three bulbs with a switch approach you can only treat all the bulbs the same. With Hue they can be different colors, light levels etc.
8. Socket Size / Lamp Type. Switches don’t really care what bulbs are being used. The current downside with Hue is it is only available in the standard bulb size. So it’s not ready for your chandelier, or perhaps some more specialty lights. At the moment adding Hue means rethinking the “lights” or “shades” that you already have. Replace a standard bulb in a 60′s lamp and give it new life. Reach for your halogen torch and you will be disappointed. If you get hooked you will be looking at buying new fixtures or lamps. While shopping for them will leave you disappointed as the lighting industry has produced a lot of lights with funny bulb sizes and types in recent years.
9: Future House: The house of the future may not need to be wired the way it is today. Lighting circuits could be very different under a Hue model. That could save cost and installation time. Whether that’s good or bad is another question. You have to overcome the one zone – on/off problem although that could be done by some secondary signaling in the wiring that is the equivalent to emergency lighting.
10: Plugs and other Accessories: This area is a bit of a mess. Philips uses a Zigbee network although it isn’t clear to me what other brands can be connected. Philips makes and distributes a product called LivingWhites in Europe that will automate a plug and join your Hue network.
11. Eco-Friendly: I like the idea that Ube potentially can report on your usage although only through the installed switches. This is something it would be nice if Hue could do too. Not sure if it is possible. Still at the end of the month a quick calculation on Hue cost you so many KWH (almost nothing vs other items in the house I’m sure).
12. The App: All of these have to have an app to be part of the whole remote in your pocket control from anywhere. The Hue app is ok. The other apps I’ve not tried.
Is there a place for Switches?
There’s certainly a role and a place for WeMo type devices. However, they aren’t going to change the way you think about lighting. They don’t radically lower the cost, change color or provide a myriad of playful options. I’d consider using the outside light example if I didn’t want to go Hue. However, I’d go Hue as soon as I had more than one bulb that I wanted to control time on in this example as I can also change color (red for Xmas, yellow for bugs? etc.)
Relying on phones for switches isn’t perfect either. So there’s likely to be some middle ground. I’m not ready yet to put a dedicated iPad by my front door and the rest of the pieces don’t exist at home depot. Although with the price of Android Tablets tumbling we may well find that “visual” controls are the new switch center in time.
Links and Videos:
The LED technology inside every hue wireless LED bulb is a little bit special. That’s because it can display different tones of white light – from warm yellow white to vibrant blue white. Of course, it can also recreate any color in the spectrum. Naturally.
And they couldn’t be easier to install. Just pick the lights or lamps you want to give the hue makeover and screw the wireless bulbs in. Then turn the light switch on, so there’s electricity running to the bulb, and you’re all done. It really is that simple. via Philips hue.
The Wi-Fi® enabled WeMo Light Switch allows you to turn lights on and off from anywhere–from across the house, from the backyard, or from the other side of the world. WeMo Light Switch replaces a standard light switch in your home and can be controlled remotely via WeMo Light Switch | WeMo Home Automation | Connected Home | Products | Belkin USA Site.
Each Ube dimmer has “sub-metering” built in. That’s a tiny electric meter inside each smart dimmer, smart plug and smart outlet. Now you can get important information such as: via Ube.
Home automation technologies have been promising to change our lives for decades: We’ll be able to control our entire homes from one place. Finally, Wi-Fi and mobile devices may be able to deliver on that promise.