Smart LED Light Bulbs with Wifi from LIFX
In a previous article, we discussed how affordable LED light bulbs are now available to consumers by companies such as Switch Lighting. With LED light bulbs approaching reasonable price points, consumer demand is increasing along with interest in LED light bulbs with more advanced functionality. If Switch light bulbs are considered affordable, then the new LED light from LIFX may not be considered affordable but claims to offer some impressive functionality.
LIFX is a San Francisco company which started out as 5 individuals attempting to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter to launch their smart, WiFi-enabled, LED light bulb late last year. The project received very high levels of interest from backers who were willing to place pre-orders for the bulbs totaling $1,314,542. This means that LIFX was able to get consumers to pre-order 23,678 light bulbs at an average price of $55.52. With the Kickstarter campaign over, the bulbs are currently on backorder with shipments expected to take place this month. The bulb can be currently pre-ordered on Amazon for $99 with free shipping.
Why the high price tag? Because in addition to the long life and great energy savings over the life of the bulb, it is also WiFi-enabled so that you can control it from your smartphone. The first bulb installed is the master and once configured, can support as many as 50 additional bulbs which can all be controlled from your smartphone app. The Kickstarter page talks about changing any bulb to any color, having your lights come on when you get home and switch off when you leave, waking up naturally in the morning with automatically increasing light (isn’t that what the sun does?), and a feature called “visualizing your music” which makes your lights behave in rhythm to music being played.
A hands-on review of the new lightbulb by Adam Turner of The Sydney Morning Herald states that “the list of things you could eventually do with LIFX is vast, but the list of things you can actually do right now is short”. Most likely this is because LIFX is more focused to on rapidly scaling up to fill their pre-orders as opposed to developing new functionality. A detailed product review on Amazon provides one Kickstart backer’s critique of the bulb, and in the comments, LIFX responds to the critiques. In reading through all the reviews/comments for the LIFX bulbs, the two biggest criticisms so far are the size/weight and lack of software functionality. LIFX responded back that “the LIFX bulb is a standard A21 size” and that new software updates would be “available very soon”.
Then evaluating the viability of LIFX as a business, they clearly have an innovative product that has demonstrated demand as evidenced by the large number of pre-orders. They don’t appear to have given up any company equity while raising initial funding and generating a great deal of hype around their success on Kickstarter. However, there don’t appear to be any barriers to entry for other companies unless LIFX has some intellectual property. A cursory search of the USPTO shows no patents assigned to the founder of the company, the lead engineer, or to LIFX itself.
LIFX’s biggest concern might be the competing intelligent LED light bulb from Philips, the Hue, that was Forbes product of the year in 2012 and has 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon from 309 customer reviews. While the Hue requires a bridge that you plug into your home Wi-Fi router, a 3-Pack of Hue bulbs along with the bridge is priced at $199. This means that for the same cost of two LIFX bulbs you can get three Hue bulbs. Philips is the largest manufacturer of lighting in the world measured by applicable revenues (2012) and LIFX will probably need a serious capital injection in order to scale production as quickly as possible to capture market share.
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