"Hue, meet Siri": Philips' color-changing bulbs add Apple HomeKit support

Philips

EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated 10/6/2015 with additional information from Philips and Apple.

Over the summer, Philips told us to expect its color-changing Hue connected LEDs to integrate with Siri via Apple HomeKit at some point this fall. Now they're making it official with a new version of the Philips Hue Bridge that's compatible with Apple's iOS-based smart home platform. Simply called the Philips Hue Bridge 2.0, the new control device will work with all existing Hue bulbs and fixtures, letting you bring everything together under HomeKit's fold.

The new bridge will begin selling as part of all Philips Hue starter kits in North America and Europe on October 6th, and -- in a welcome departure for the brand -- will also sell as an individual product for $60 (specifics on international pricing aren't available yet, but that converts to about £40 or AU$85). Existing Hue users will be able to trade their old bridge in for a $20 discount on the new one, bringing the cost of syncing with Siri down to $40. If you don't plan on upgrading, Philips says it'll still support the existing Hue Bridge.

Also new from Hue: improved Hue bulbs, specifically ones that shine brighter than before. The new Hue LEDs have been re-branded ever so slightly as "Philips Hue White and Color," and they promise to put out 800 lumens at peak, white-light brightness. At just 600 lumens, the existing Hue bulbs fell awkwardly in between the brightness you'd expect from a 45-watt bulb and what you'd get with a 60-watt bulb. At 800 lumens, they should now sit comfortably at that familiar 60-watt level.

The Philips Hue White LED. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Another change is that the white-light-only Philips Hue Lux bulbs are being phased out and replaced with the same "Philips Hue White" bulbs that we saw with the Philips Hue Wireless Dimming Kit . I liked the Lux bulbs a lot, but I'm fine with the change, as the Hue White bulbs left me equally impressed when I tested them out. Plus, they're cheaper than before, costing just $15 each in the US -- the same low price as Hue Bridge-compatible third-party smart bulbs like the GE Link and Cree Connected LEDs . Generic Zigbee bulbs like those will continue to work with the new Hue Bridge -- but they won'twork with HomeKit.

That's the same Hue-exclusive approach Philips took with the recent Amazon Echo integration. With the new Hue White bulbs costing the same as the Cree and GE bulbs, it looks to be a pretty pure play at trumping the competition, though not one that's terribly friendly to Hue users who've already invested in a whole home's worth of off-brand lights. It's a move that will likely get a lot of new users to stick with Hue bulbs only as they build out their setups, but existing users might feel a bit burned.

With Hue bulbs under HomeKit's control, you'll be able to trigger lighting changes with voice commands using your iOS device. Siri can turn your lights on and off or dim them to a specific percentage, and she can change the color of your bulbs, too.

With HomeKit, you'll be able to trigger your pre-programmed lighting scenes by asking Siri. Colin West McDonald/CNET

While Hue LEDs claim to be capable of producing millions of shades, Philips tells me that the current number of colors that Siri can understand is "less than ten." So, in lieu of "vermilion," you'll need to stick with plain old "red." That might soon change, though, as a source at Apple tells me that upcoming tweaks to Siri's vocabulary will include support for "more than 800 colors." Whether or not vermilion makes the cut remains to be seen.

In the Hue app settings, you'll now find a "Siri Voice Control" option that will let you migrate your Hue scenes over to HomeKit. Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

That said, you'll also be able to use Siri to launch any scenes you've created in the Hue app, which brings more specific color control into play. To do so, you'll need to access "Siri Voice Control" in the Hue app's settings. From there, you'll be able to tell Hue which scenes you want Siri to control. Hue will then translate them into scenes that follow HomeKit's coding so Siri can work with them. The Hue team describes this as a big part of HomeKit's appeal, claiming that Siri is as strong a tool for launching scene changes as the Hue app is for crafting them. I'm inclined to agree.

Of course, Siri isn't the only voice control platform that can control Hue LEDs. The bulbs already work with the Amazon Echo smart speaker, and more specifically with "Alexa," the cloud-connected, voice-activated artificial assistant housed within . However, Alexa can only turn Hue lights on or off, or dim them -- the engineers at Philips tell me they're still working with Amazon on programming spoken commands for color changes and scene launches. It's a battle worth paying attention to as Siri and Alexa duke it out to serve as the smart home's voice of choice.

It's also worth noting that the new Hue Bridge isn't a HomeKit-specific product, but rather a bridge that includes HomeKit support as one of a growing number of options for smart home control. Philips wants to stay future-proof and platform-agnostic as the connected home continues to develop, which means that you'll still be able to integrate your Hue bulbs with non-HomeKit controllers including SmartThings , Staples Connect , and IFTTT. Hue's team also tells me that they plan on adding support for Google's Weave connected home protocol through a firmware upgrade down the line. That's a distinctly different approach than the other HomeKit-compatible gadgets we've seen thus far, all of which put most (if not all) of their eggs into Apple's basket.

Those gadgets include the Insteon Hub Pro , the iDevices Switch , and the Elgato Eve Room temperature and humidity sensor. With the new Hue Bridge, you'll be able to control your bulbs alongside all of them within iOS. You could link your bulbs with a HomeKit-compatible door lock like the Schlage Sense Deadbolt , then group everything so that your lights turn off and your door locks with a single Siri command.

You'll also be able to control Hue bulbs in other HomeKit-compatible apps, and add pre-programmed color changes to your HomeKit-specific scenes. For instance, you'll already find a smart bulb color selector in the Insteon+ HomeKit app -- you could use it to create a "Workout" scene that flips a fan on and turns the lights bright blue whenever you tell Siri to run it. Third-party HomeKit control apps that aren't tied to a specific product are already starting to pop up, too. Expect coverage and reviews of all of it as HomeKit continues to mature.

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