Philips Hue is by far the leading smart bulb brand. Problem is, Hue bulbs don’t work without the Hue Hub. Now, Philips is tackling the problem by releasing a new generation of bulbs that can be controlled via Bluetooth.
There’s no point in beating around the bush—at face value, this seems like a bizarre decision. Aside from Bluetooth compatibility, these new bulbs are identical to the old Hue bulbs. They look the same, they have the same color and dimming options, they’re the same price as the old Hue bulbs, and they’re meant to work with the Hue hub.
That’s right, these Bluetooth controlled Hue bulbs still work best with the Hue hub. Over Bluetooth, you can only control only 10 bulbs at a time (50 with a hub), you can’t organize and control bulbs by which room they’re in, and quite naturally, you can’t control the bulbs unless you’re close enough to maintain a Bluetooth connection. (It’s worth mentioning that you should still be able to assign specific rooms to the Bluetooth bulbs through Alexa/Assistant for individual bulb and room control with your voice.)
To Philips’ credit, Hue bulbs still have their full range of color options, scene settings, and multi-user control options when in Bluetooth mode. They also support Google Assistant and Alexa over Bluetooth, which makes up for Bluetooth’s short range (no Apple Homekit, sorry).
But for all the shortcomings of Bluetooth, what’s the benefit of a Bluetooth Hue bulb?
A Lower Barrier to Entry
Philips Hue bulbs are relatively affordable on their own, and they have a lot of brand recognition. But up until now, you would have to drop $50 on a hub just to get a few smart bulbs working. It’s a big investment, and it’s created a high barrier for entry into the Philips Hue ecosystem.
Unsurprisingly, this inaccessibility drives people to competing smart bulb brands, like LIFX and eufy, which work without a hub. It also causes a lot of confusion around the holidays, as people slowly realize that their new smart bulbs don’t work without a $50 hub because they were gifted a bulb or two and not the starter kit.
So, while Bluetooth controlled Hue bulbs don’t sound great, they open up the garden walls to people who can’t justify buying a $100 Hue Starter Kit, or for people who just want to try out a smart bulb for the first time.
This is why, aside from Bluetooth compatibility, the new Hue bulbs are identical to the old Hue bulbs. They’re not meant to replace the bulbs that are already in your home, and they still work best with the Hub. It’s just that, in certain situations, Bluetooth controls could be useful to some people.
When Do They Come Out?
Philips wants to transition to Bluetooth compatible bulbs as soon as possible. Right now, the A19 and BR30 Hue bulb shapes are available with Bluetooth compatibility. They come in three versions: White ($15), White Ambiance ($25), and Color Ambiance ($50). Philips says that more bulb shapes will by ready for Bluetooth soon.