First look: BlueBulb's iPhone-controlled LED bulb looks to kill light switches

Posted:
in General Discussion edited December 2014
After nearly nine months of research and development, bluetooth lighting startup BlueBulb is finally ready to ship a small batch of initial units to customers in a bid to bring remotely-controlled, multi-color lighting into the mainstream.

While mass production of BlueBulb may be months away, AppleInsider was able to spend some time with one of the first units to roll off the assembly line.

BlueBulb

Introduction

Not quite satisfied with plain white light, BlueBulb uses a unified RGB+White LED array, allowing for a wide variety of color outputs ? one million in all according to founder and CEO Peter Lakits.

Color changing is a neat trick, but the real draw for many BlueBulb users is the promise of a simple to setup iOS-controlled light. Lakits noted that the iPhone is especially well suited for the task, as the handset rarely leaves a user's side.

"It's face-to-face communication," Lakits told AppleInsider, explaining why the firm chose to go with the Bluetooth. "The phone is always with you, even in your bed."

Remote control lighting was once a luxury reserved for pricey home automation systems, but BlueBulb promises to change that by building ad hoc wireless connectivity into every bulb, eschewing the need for a dedicated centralized backbone.

Hardware

The build quality is remarkably stable and polished for an initial production run, though this is to be expected as BlueBulb has gone through thorough testing thanks to a hefty personal investment from Lakits. Constructed out of plastic, the unit is lightweight, but has a solid feel thanks to a large aluminum-alloy heat dissipator, which pulls double duty as a solid housing for the bulb's internal Bluetooth communications components. Lakits said one of the goals with BlueBulb was to keep cost to a minimum while still offering high-tech features.

BlueBulb Side


Like other wireless light bulbs, BlueBulb draws power from a standard light socket, which feeds the comm module and a unified RGB plus white LED array. Because the four LEDs are located in close proximity beneath a single glass seal, the separate RGB hues are more smoothly mixed, allowing for accurate color rendition.

Notably, BlueBulb carries a white LED which, when combined with the light from supporting RGB LEDs, can produce varying color temperatures to suit a user's needs.

"You can soften or harden the whiteness," Lakits said, referring to the gradients of white light offered by BlueBulb. "Sometimes I want a warmer light to relax, or maybe more blue for reading."

Cooling fins run along the side of the bulb, dispersing heat to keep the internal components cool during operation, thus extending their life. In testing, especially when playing with the various color settings, the aluminum had a tendency to become hot to the touch, but the temperature of the plastic bulb covering never rose above nominal levels. In short, the heat sink does its job.

"We faced two major problems with [BlueBulb]," Lakits said, explaining why there will be only two variations of the device at launch. "One is the cooling problem, a 12 watt bulb was just too much."

The second issue, also having to do with BlueBulb's passive cooling system, was how to transmit a Bluetooth signal past the aluminum casing.

At launch, BlueBulb's lineup will be limited to a 6-watt and a 9-watt bulb, each spec'd to 80 Lumens per watt. Our test unit was the latter. Both bulbs fit in common E27 sockets and have a design mirroring their incandescent cousins. Lakits said the company is working on other socket designs, including the GU10 bayonet mount traditionally used for halogen lighting.

Usage

Unlike the Philips hue light bulb, which is controlled over Wi-Fi via a wireless gateway, BlueBulb uses energy-sipping Bluetooth 4.0 technology to make a direct connection with an Apple iOS device. For now, support is limited to the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, third and fourth-generation iPads, and the iPad mini.

A free app is already available in the App Store, which offers a fairly deep feature set with support for color changing, individual control over the white and color LEDs and sleep/wake timers.

BlueBulb App
BlueBulb's control app with pairing mode (left) and user interface (right) shown.


In practice, moving quickly through the palette on the iPhone app generated markedly stepped color changes. For example, when going from blue to green, distinct intermediate colors were easily distinguished instead of a smooth transitional flow from one color to the next. This effect does not hinder usability in any way, and is more of a quibble than a problem.

There is definitely a sweet spot in the middle of "soft" and "hard" white light, with utility falling off toward the two ends of the spectrum. On the warmest setting, light was a bit too diffuse, while the cool blue threw too harsh a light for regular tasks. In between the two, however, there is a large swath of effective color temperatures to play with.

With the BlueBulb's four-LED setup, a single white LED is paired with three RGB LEDs that produce an array of colors. By default, all diodes are set to maximum output, which can create washed out and inaccurate colors. A purple represented on the iOS app may not be the purple produced by the bulb unless the white LED is turned down.

The inclusion of a pure white LED is a clever move, however, as it both boosts the perceived brightness of the color LED and can be used alone to create a pure white light.

The app allows users to control the intensity of the white LED and the bank of three RGB LEDs seaparately. This makes it easier to control the perceived brightness of colored light, though the most vibrant tones were produced with the white LED turned down past 10 percent, consequently limiting usability.

BlueBulb App
BlueBulb's control app with pairing mode (left) and user interface (right) shown.


Connecting over Bluetooth is fast once paired, and latency is definitely not an issue. Color changes are snappy and on/off commands are near instantaneous.

Range appears to be normal, and in testing the unit was available at all points of the house. Transmission distance could be a problem for those with larger homes, however, as the maximum range for the protocol is 50 meters, not including hinderances like walls and floors.

Also, as noted previously, BlueBulb is not connected via Wi-Fi, which means controlling the unit remotely while away from home is not possible. Additional bulbs must be manually paired when purchased, unlike other systems that automatically detect new units via a gateway.

We don't believe these hurdles affect what BlueBulb as a company is setting out to do, which is to build an easy-to-use light bulb that mixes next-generation functionality with a fun, interactive design.

Lakits hopes to first target the gadget-lovers in a first round of funding. Later products will be aimed at a wider audience, and the company already has designs in the works for a multitude of different devices built on the BlueBulb platform.

"We're focusing on the early adopters," Lakits said, "the tech-sensitive society."

BlueBulb Packaging
BlueBulb's control app with pairing mode (left) and user interface (right) shown.

Availability

There are 400 BlueBulbs ready to ship, and those interested in being one of the first to own one can visit the company's FundAnything page. Campaign pricing starts at $59 for a single 9W bulb and tops out at $209 for a pack of four.

Because BlueBulb is using the new funding site to ramp up production, once the first batch is sold, buyers must wait until the $20,000 campaign goal is met before their orders are filled.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 69
    kindredmackindredmac Posts: 153member
    Not sold on Bluetooth connectivity.
    I have Hue in my home and as long as there is a WiFi signal I have control of the bulbs.
    I also like that I can remotely turn on and off my lights from anywhere in the world for security purposes.
  • Reply 2 of 69
    hawkbladehawkblade Posts: 76member
    The Wifi version is the lifx. Both look promising. I'll wait a little bit to see which is doing better after the initial first runs of the units. Then after the first major bugs are worked out, then I'll think about changing all my bulbs out to one of these company's smartbulbs.

  • Reply 3 of 69
    Note to editor: The Philips Hue does not use WiFi, it uses Zigbee's LightLink profile. In terms of energy efficiency, the difference between Bluetooth and Zigbee is insignificant.

    http://www.zigbee.org/DesktopModules/ZigbeeCompanyProducts/ProductDetails.aspx?ProductID=634&Ctrl=ViewProducts

    Can you update the story?
  • Reply 4 of 69
    jkichlinejkichline Posts: 1,259member


    However, to be fair, the Hue bridge connects to your iPhone via WiFi, but sends signals out via ZigBee. Still, I like that I can control my lights from anywhere and they have an API which means I can make my own light shows with the "Ambify" app!

  • Reply 5 of 69
    stelligentstelligent Posts: 2,680member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by radioactive76 View Post



    Note to editor: The Philips Hue does not use WiFi, it uses Zigbee's LightLink profile. In terms of energy efficiency, the difference between Bluetooth and Zigbee is insignificant.



    http://www.zigbee.org/DesktopModules/ZigbeeCompanyProducts/ProductDetails.aspx?ProductID=634&Ctrl=ViewProducts



    Can you update the story?


     


    Note to radioactive - while the Philips hub uses Zigbee to control the lights, the iPhone talks to the hub via Wifi. :)


     


    p.s. Just realized someone beat me to the punch on this. 


     


    On a related note, while power is not the differentiating factor between Bluetooth and Zigbee, I do wonder if this approach is limited. After all, there are many good reasons 802.15.4 was developed.

  • Reply 6 of 69
    irelandireland Posts: 16,899member
    I want to see one of these bulbs that's cheaper and colourless. I don't want colours, I want less expensive. And the annoying thing about Bluetooth is I never have Bluetooth turned on on my devices to save power.

    What we need in as adhoc wifi lightbulb with an elegantly simple setup. That this still doesn't exist in 2013 is embarrassing for human innovation. Still none of these products interest me. We need more innovation, simpler setup, less colour gimmicks that no regular people want, better software (ugly) and Apple like UX and sensibilities.

    Apple should take a stab at this market. That I'd like to see. We need some people with taste and intelligence to take this on. The bulbs should have two settings, one cooler and one warmer, and they should be tested to death to get the exact correct tones of cool and warm.

    Every product in this area looks way to similar. Yes, the setup of these bulbs is handier and better, but like I say, I never have Bluetooth turned on and wouldn't leave it on. So I'd be left constantly switching it on an off and at that stage I'd rather just get out of bed and hit the switch.
  • Reply 7 of 69
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    Glad to see some competition! I'm sure I'll get something like this eventually--worth it as an entertainment expense!

    Brightness per energy used (for both the lighting and the wireless) would be key factors in picking one. I really like what Philips has done, but there's room for options.
  • Reply 8 of 69
    irelandireland Posts: 16,899member
    Note to editor: The Philips Hue does not use WiFi, it uses Zigbee's LightLink profile. In terms of energy efficiency, the difference between Bluetooth and Zigbee is insignificant.

    http://www.zigbee.org/DesktopModules/ZigbeeCompanyProducts/ProductDetails.aspx?ProductID=634&Ctrl=ViewProducts

    Can you update the story?

    First post? How's your job at Zigbee or Philips going?
  • Reply 9 of 69
    freshmakerfreshmaker Posts: 496member


    Hmm...I wonder if you can change the color of multiple bulbs at the same time.  I'd be interested in the 4 pack if that were the case, though not necessarily for $200.  It kinda looks like you can according to the screenshots?  Would be annoying to have to change the settings on each one individually.

  • Reply 10 of 69
    fyngyrzfyngyrz Posts: 61member
    Too expensive, too dim, inadequate radiation pattern, poor device support (seriously... ipad1 has bluetooth, etc... there's no reason other than developer cluelessness to limit the app to only the latest devices. Also, there's like a bazillion Androids out there. Derp?)

    Other than that, yeah, great.

    Someone will eventually get this right. But probably not while LEDs remain so prohibitively expensive.
  • Reply 11 of 69
    stelligentstelligent Posts: 2,680member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Ireland View Post





    First post? How's your job at Zigbee or Philips going?


    Umm, Zigbee is not a company or product. It's a communication and networking standard. 

  • Reply 12 of 69
    charlitunacharlituna Posts: 7,143member
    ireland wrote: »

    Apple should take a stab at this market.

    Great then we have rumors of Mac OS and iOS being delayed so the staff could help the lightbulb team.
  • Reply 13 of 69
    stelligentstelligent Posts: 2,680member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by nagromme View Post



    Glad to see some competition! I'm sure I'll get something like this eventually--worth it as an entertainment expense!



    Brightness per energy used (for both the lighting and the wireless) would be key factors in picking one. I really like what Philips has done, but there's room for options.


    There is room indeed. 


     


    One alternative option is to control the switch rather than the bulb. Belkin, as an example, is doing this. Obviously, there limits atomicity of control. But it offers advantages. 


     


    Hope this is the beginning of a wave, rather than a transient trend like the Clapper.

  • Reply 14 of 69
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member


    I can't believe this review doesn't even mention the fact that this bulb will clearly only work in certain, particular, lighting fixtures.  For any fixture where the bulb is visible or partially visible (and I would argue this is something like 60-70% of all lighting fixtures), this thing will mostly show as a giant black blob.  


     


    Great. image Just what I wanted. 

  • Reply 15 of 69
    ronmronm Posts: 1member
    I thought LED bulbs produce very little heat; that is, after all, one of their advantages. They convert a very high percentage of the energy used to light, not heat. So where does the heat in this bulb originate? Bluetooth?
  • Reply 16 of 69
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Ireland View Post



    I want to see one of these bulbs that's cheaper and colourless. I don't want colours, I want less expensive. And the annoying thing about Bluetooth is I never have Bluetooth turned on on my devices to save power...


     


    I think the reasoning there is that these are decorative bulbs only.  LED bulbs are useless for any kind of serious illumination (despite what it says on the box of millions of "LED flashlights").


     


    So the thinking is that if you want to control "real" lightbulbs in your house remotely and don't care about the colour, then the efficient solution is home automation rather than individual bluetooth or Wi-Fi lightbulbs.  For the lightbulb to be able to have the circuitry inside and not overheat, it has to be LED, and LED bulbs are in the "party lights" category, not the "serious lighting" category.  

  • Reply 17 of 69
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,280member


    I can't see buying more than a very small number of these bulbs, if any. Every bulb has to be paired with every i-Device. The price is almost 5X what a Cree LED bulb costs at Home Depot. Whole-home automation (including remote management) using Z-wave technology is more interesting--and money better spent, in my opinion. Check out MiCasaVerde.com.


     


    The latest technology in LED bulbs to hit the market (such as Cree's) are more energy efficient than CFL (and incandescent of course) but they still generate heat, and heat is an enemy of LEDs. The metal heat sinks with fins on LED bulbs are designed to dissipate the heat that would otherwise dramatically reduce the usable life of an LED bulb.

  • Reply 18 of 69


    I'm using nine Philips Hue bulbs at home, and they're pretty rock-solid incredible. I don't use the color features much, once I tuned them to the kind of 'white' I prefer in each room, but the remote control, scriptability and gang-control make for a very solid automated system. Being able to turn on "upstairs" with one button (or a cron job) is lovely.


     


    I can't imagine wanting Bluetooth. I'd have to be in the house to use it, and probably very close to the bulb in question. We already have regular light switches for that!

  • Reply 19 of 69
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,280member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post


     


    I think the reasoning there is that these are decorative bulbs only.  LED bulbs are useless for any kind of serious illumination (despite what it says on the box of millions of "LED flashlights").



    You haven't checked out Cree brand LED bulbs. These are serious bulbs at an affordable price. Home Depot somehow got an exclusive on selling them. I've replaced nearly every CFL and incandescent in my home with Crees. Cree power consumption measured with a Kill-A-Watt is less than advertised--in other words the efficiency is better than advertised. David Pogue wrote an article about them (and other LEDs) in March. The LED era is now upon us, just be sure to shop wisely because older, less efficient and more costly bulbs are still out there. Yes, some fixtures benefited from having 2 Crees in a Y adapter, but this provides much more light--still with less power consumed--than the CFL it replaced.


     


    BTW: The Bluebulb seems unlikely to be as efficient as stated (80 lumens/watt) if any color other than white is selected.

  • Reply 20 of 69
    suddenly newtonsuddenly newton Posts: 13,670member
    I'm worried Anonymous will hack my light bulbs and turn them all black. For the lulz.
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